Movie Review: Teenagers Who Just Want to Have Fun Get Caught Up in a Generation-Spanning Revenge Plot in ‘Ma,’ a Tonally Wild and Ambitious Horror Mash-Up

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Luke Evans, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Missi Pyle, Allison Janney, Kyanna Simone Simpson

Director: Tate Taylor

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for A Multitude of Torturous Weapons, Sloppy Teen Partying, and Deeply Disturbing Secrets

Release Date: May 31, 2019

In terms of how closely its advertising matches the actual product, Ma fits in one of the most satisfying of cinematic molds. It is very much the movie that the trailers have promised you, but it is also oh so much more. I am reluctant to go into any more detail because of how satisfied I was to discover everything as it was revealed to me. Even my “Recommended If You Like” section below is a bit of a land mine, as the mere mention of predecessors that Ma resembles could constitute a spoiler. But suffice it to say that in this stew of theoretically clashing flavors, Octavia Spencer is more than able to handle all the tones and motivations she is required to convey.

It should go without saying that if you’re a high school student, it’s probably not the best idea to party in the basement of a random woman who you know only because she buys you alcohol. But teenagers are known for making boneheaded decisions, and Sue Ann’s (aka Ma’s) house seems a lot safer than the alternative of drinking in the woods. Also, these kids don’t realize that they are characters in a horror movie and thus being lured into a trap. Furthermore, Sue Ann is remarkably savvy about understanding the way young people communicate, both in person and through social media. Just when you think she is going to go in for the kill right away, you realize that she is actually playing the tangled, multifarious long game. Ultimately, she becomes reckless in ways that threaten her upper hand but that keep the audience satisfyingly stunned and entertained. This is a wild, risk-taking movie that takes inspiration from plenty of classics that have come before it but that also stands on its own as a truly unique and deadly specimen.

Ma is Recommended If You Like: Carrie, Misery, Saw, Sharp Objects

Grade: 4 out of 5 Cases of Booze

Movie Review: Nerds Realize That Good Grades and Partying Aren’t Mutually Exclusive in the Goofy and Sweet ‘Booksmart’

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Mike O’Brien, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Haraga, Stephanie Styles

Director: Olivia Wilde

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Halting and Manic Attempts at Sex and Drug Use

Release Date: May 24, 2019

Here’s what I’ve learned from Booksmart and other recent high school-set movies and TV shows: all teenagers are smart these days. Maybe there are still some lazy slackers out there, but the conventional wisdom is that they’re the exceptions, and the new normal is that it’s cool to be a good student. This comes as a bit of a shock to Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) on the eve of their graduation, who have spent four years buckling down, nose to textbook, only to look up and discover that their partying classmates also have decent enough transcripts to get into prestigious schools, including one who will be attending Yale alongside Molly. Now, I can buy that partying kids are smart, but two kids from the same high school both going to the same Ivy League institution? That might be a bridge too far. Although, the elite college admissions process can feel so random that just saying “[insert Ivy League school here]” works as shorthand to get the point across for Molly’s worldview to suddenly come tumbling down.

So with that setup, Molly and Amy decide that they’ve got to make up for all the fun they’ve unnecessarily been missing out the past four years by fitting in as much partying as possible the night before their graduation ceremony. It’s a somewhat novel setup for a fairly typical plot, as much of the night is spent getting to the party instead of actually being at the party (Molly and Amy, naturally enough, don’t know their classmate’s address). As is usually the case, the plot shenanigans are quite shaggy, which is sometimes amusing and sometimes a little too random (one drug-fueled animated sequence really comes out of nowhere). The differences come in the perspectives, with a decidedly female (and nerdy) perspective in front of and behind the camera (it’s Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut). But the typical emotional climax is still what you would expect (and be satisfied by). These movies so often steadily build to codependent friends screaming at each other, and we’ve got a doozy of a blowout here. It’s effective, but it also makes me want to see that rare high school party movie about teenage friends with a perfectly healthy relationship.

Booksmart is Recommended If You Like: Superbad, Blockers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 2000s SNL alumni

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Caps and Gowns