Ben Stiller’s review published on Letterboxd:
Where was the handheld Cuarón! Where was the f**king handheld!
Cuarón’s most personal... is good but not his best.
As an avid fan of Cuarón’s work, this was a bit of a miscalculation. Albeit a technical MASTERPIECE this film doesn’t work on so many levels... well, I’ll roll it back a bit. The great aspects of Roma are what you come to expect, the monochrome cinematography is beautiful and breathtaking. Every shot is meticulously crafted beyond belief. Cuarón has proven himself to be an excellent cinematographer, and even though I love Lubezki, this was still very serviceable. Although Cuarón’s signature handheld shots are absent, his signature long takes are as prevalent as ever. The framing and sound design were perfect and contains everything you would expect and more from a modern foreign film. The direction is obviously great, like c’mon.
The fact of the matter is... Roma falls flat when you compare it to the other works of Cuarón. I don’t think you can make a good film out of JUST filmmaking techniques. Without mentioning the technical filmmaking brilliance... let me list out why Cuarón’s other movies are so great. What made Y tú mama tambien so fantastic was the characters and the vibe of immaturity. What makes Prisoner’s of Azakaban so great is the use of characters, story, and world. What makes Children of men so great is the motivations of the characters and the desperation and hope of humanity. The story is enthralling and the world is hellish. Gravity is not Cuarón’s best... but there is clear motivations even though the writing and characters weren’t up to Cuarón standards.
With Roma the characters felt very one dimensional, if the film was about Cleo why is she treated like an afterthought in her own story. Nothing seems significant with her relationship with the family.
The dialogue is quite good, not even bad by any means but to what point? If the film is about characters why does it hardly put a spotlight on them. You could argue it exposes the political state of Mexico... but it’s nothing Cuarón hasn’t done before like in Y tú mama tambien. The story is practically non existent which isn’t a problem but there really isn’t much of a connection to these characters. If it’s driven by emotion... same problem. There are these motif’s that aren’t given enough context to, and it just doesn’t all fit. This is my subjective take, but it feels off.
Roma feels very Fellini esque, not exactly boring but quite disconnected. It meanders when it really has no reason to. Cleo doesn’t seem like a drifter character to me. It works in La Dolce Vita because of who the main character is... but not so much for this one.
I loved some specific scenes though, the beach scene, birth scene, and chaos scene were all great.
I want to add more to this and will most likely do a Cuarón post sometime later, plus I talk about this on the podcast as well next week.
A lot to love, a lot... questionable but overall I liked it more than I hated it.
eh... 6/10??? feeling generous today.