‘Parallel Mothers’ Movie Review: Pedro Almodóvar’s Soap Opera Showcases a Stunning Penélope Cruz Performance

Parallel Mothers is proof that Pedro Almodóvar remains a major cinematic force. His screenplay is elevated by Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit’s captivating performances. Its soap opera melodrama occasionally plays a bit too heavy-handed, although Parallel Mothers remains a wonderful addition to Almodóvar’s filmography that shocks, intrigues, and invigorates.

‘Parallel Mothers’ is Pedro Almodóvar’s 22nd feature film

'Parallel Mothers' review Milena Smit as Ana and Penélope Cruz as Janis standing in hospital gowns
L-R: Milena Smit as Ana and Penélope Cruz as Janis | Sony Pictures Classics

Janis Martinez (Cruz) is a middle-aged, single woman who works as a magazine photographer. She meets a single, adolescent woman named Ana (Smit) in a hospital room where they will both soon be giving birth. Janis doesn’t regret her decision to have the baby, although the idea terrifies Ana. The two women develop a powerful bond as they face motherhood in their own ways.

Parallel Mothers connects the past and the present as Janis tries to pull permits to excavate a site that’s deeply connected with her family. She struggles with returning back to work, dealing with drama involving her lover, Arturo (Israel Elejalde), and completing the excavation that so many other families rely on.

Pedro Almodóvar runs two narratives

Parallel Mothers highlights generational motherhood. Janis and Ana have a clear age difference that shows in how they approach their own journeys to motherhood. However, Almodóvar’s screenplay extends past what the audience sees involving the two leads. Their relationships with their own mothers are also drastically different, which indicates a domino effect of motherhood. Fatherhood also looms in the background, but it’s never necessarily the focus.

Almodóvar explores how motherhood changes a person. They’re now both responsible for another human life but now must also juggle other important aspects of their lives, including their careers. Parallel Mothers includes one woman returning to work and another who’s still young and finding her place in the world. Nevertheless, Janis and Ana’s story together feels more like destiny, as they became intrinsically linked ever since their meeting in that hospital room.

The second story of the excavation in Parallel Mothers acts more as bookends. It starts the narrative and concludes it. However, it still fits in with the remainder of the film. The excavation story further establishes Almodóvar’s examination of motherhood, family, and legacy. There’s plenty of drama in Janis and Ana’s relationship, but this narrative really delivers a punch right in the gut.

‘Parallel Mothers’ is an emotional journey

'Parallel Mothers' review Rossy de Palma as Elena, Israel Elejalde as Arturo, Penélope Cruz as Janis, and Milena Smit as Ana standing on a grassy field
L-R: Rossy de Palma as Elena, Israel Elejalde as Arturo, Penélope Cruz as Janis, and Milena Smit as Ana | Sony Pictures Classics

Parallel Mothers is made particularly effective thanks to Cruz and Smit’s exceptional performances. Cruz is absolutely magnetic as she delivers a truly dynamic performance that contributes significant nuance to the role. Smit is entrancing, even despite being a newcomer to the scene. Cruz and Smit’s chemistry is undeniable. Almodóvar does a wonderful job crafting the film’s central characters.

The drama occasionally dips a bit too deep into its melodrama, which works against the film’s more genuine moments. Janis and Ana’s story goes in some odd places that don’t entirely work. Parallel Mothers feels like it has an even better movie in its excavation story that just begs to be expanded upon. However, Almodóvar only teases the huge emotional impact that could have gone much deeper.

Parallel Mothers uses what’s lost and found as a significant thematic motif. It can be found in its examination of motherhood, friendship, romance, and ancestry. It’s sentimental and significantly intimate. However, some of its more dramatic soap opera moments impede the movie’s full potential. Nevertheless, Parallel Mothers is moving and notable storytelling.

Parallel Mothers hits limited theaters on Dec. 24.

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