Frank Ritz’s review published on Letterboxd:
I waited far too long to write this review. My passionate discourse of dissenting opinion is gone, and all I have is a hazy memory of a movie that didn't leave a mark; without question it's my least favorite Cuarón. I'm genuinely bummed out by this, and equally puzzled at the universal acclaim this is receiving. Everything good had a bad counterpoint, and I could argue back and forth between what was intentional and what was a misstep, and I feel like I'm always right. It felt like Cuarón got a little too far up his own ass, and tried to do way too much and lost his way more than a few times. Overall it's definitely good, but it left more than a lot to be desired, and was kind of frustrating overall.
The camera work, while undeniably gorgeous, creates a completely detached and omnipresent feeling, that didn't evoke emotion, and in fact, left me feeling cold. Is this the way we're supposed to feel? It seems like Cuarón wants to go for the heartstrings, but can't help himself in approaching it from some methodical formalism. If it wanted to be a meditative slice-of-life flick, all of the big set-pieces completely betray it. As soon as I felt myself getting in a rhythm, something so malignantly planned and scripted would happen that was obviously trying to provoke an emotion, it almost completely did the opposite. At the same time, those set pieces are undoubtedly all the memorable moments, but they feel so disingenuous to the whole film. If this is a film about Cleo and her experience, why is she such an empty and hollow character? If the point is that her existence is riddled to meaningless by those around her and their lack of care, why are there interjections of attempting to have emotional connectivity, at all? The film exists in this constant state of limbo of not wanting to take a stance in any direction. I forgot that this is super personal and semi-autobiographical to Cuarón until the end credits started and it was dedicated to his Maid of old; but if this was the case, how come it never felt like that while watching. There isn't a personal connection established at any moment, and only in retrospect does that kind of make sense, but while watching it was certainly not felt. All of the political stuff feels thrown in to try and spice things up suddenly, and yet feel distracting; is that the point too? While you're living your own life sudden bursts of change will happen and catch you off guard, but, again, this isn't exactly communicated well, and only upon thinking is it superficially appropriate. The whole thing is kind of glib, but it also all kind of works. I far from hated it, but I was far from impressed by it.
Without question though, Yalitza Aparicio was the highlight. Despite her complete lack of characterization, she gave it her all, and felt like a shining star wafting through some film that didn't deserve her. Actually all of the performances were great (especially the kids). Which seems counter intuitive, because they were more subdued, and the film-making aspects were way too heavy-handed. All of his "symbolism" doesn't become symbolism when it's practically screaming in your face. The denouncement of Cleo's feelings at the end was completely unnecessary, it would have been powerful to have her cried and comforted, because we all know what she's feeling, and it completely goes against her character, at least the one previously portrayed for the last two hours, to suddenly, and blatantly, speak her feelings. It doesn't feel like catharsis, for her or audience, just a film-maker betraying himself. Also that poster... horrible. Why would they make that the poster? That scene got the biggest eye roll ever from me, because it was way too in your face of what was going to happen, and played out exactly as expected. Y Tu Mamá También, and Children of Men are the two sides of this coin that Cuarón has already done, and to far more effective, and superior, effect.
I kind of wish I saw this at home instead of the theater, perhaps the intimate setting would have enhanced my emotional connectivity. Eventually, one day, I'll give this another shot, but for now, I have respect, but overall ambivalence towards the year's most celebrated movie; which isn't uncommon (see; Boyhood, La La Land, The Shape of Water, etc.)