MAMA WEED – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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It’s a true cinematic sin that for a career that spans five decades and with more than 120 films on her resume, French film legend Isabelle Huppert finally earned her first lead actress Oscar nomination for her darkly clever performance in Paul Verhoven’s 2016 thriller Elle. As she has shown multiple times on the big screen, she revels in taboo-breaking bravado and potentially off-putting characters that she brings to colorful life with cold-blooded panache. That includes her real-life teen charged with patricide in 1978’s Violette Noziere, a homicidal postal worker in 1995’s La Ceremonie and a music instructor with a taste for kinky sex in 2001’s The Piano Teacher.

Consider how Huppert shocks in the very first scene of Elle when her well-off divorcee who lords over a Paris video-game business is violently beaten and raped by a masked intruder. But instead of calling the police, she cleans up the mess, orders sushi and takes a bubble bath. She copes with being a victim by victimizing others, including sharing office sex with her best friend’s husband, placing a possibly injurious toothpick in her ex-spouse’s girlfriend’s food and masturbating while peering out the window at her hunky neighbor.

While her widow and mother of two grown daughters in her latest film Mama Weed doesn’t quite compare with her most audacious roles mentioned above, at least Huppert’s character bears the tantalizing name Patience Portefeux. She works as a French-Arabic translator for the Paris police who interprets the communications between the city’s most notorious drug dealers. At night, she visits her sickly mother at an elder-care facility while trying to avoid the fact she is behind in her payments.

But when she recognizes the voice of the son of a nurse tending to her mom, she tries to protect him. That leads to Patience suddenly finding a huge stash of Moroccan hash worth a considerable amount of Euros. With her newly adopted K-9 dog and a pair of Arab flunkies who are willing to sell the drugs to others, she suddenly has found a way to pay off her debts. That includes her cagey Asian landlady, who has no problem with helping to launder her ill-gotten gains. In order to protect her identity in public, Patience disguises herself in fancy makeshift hijab-like garb, Hermes scarves and big sunglasses. But her turn to crime doesn’t come out of the blue since her late husband was tied to an international trafficking operation and her mom had her hand in some illegal activities.

I wish that director and co-writer Jean-Paul Salome injected some more snap and humor into the proceedings, generally a staple for this kind of caper. Just having Patience bopping along to a rap tune in her car after scoring a victory while a fellow driver joins her is a cliché that brings little to the table. What saves Mama Weed is Mama Weed herself. At age 68, the sight of the still-glorious Huppert onscreen being as intriguing as ever will give you a contact high that lasts a good long time.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.