The dull and ethically dubious Mama Weed fails to live up to the gonzo promise of its title.
With a premise and (English language) title sure to inspire equal parts skepticism and amusement, Jean-Paul Salomé’s Mama Weed has the potential to be a sort of curiosity for U.S. audiences, its loaded plot detailing the rise of Isabelle Huppert’s Patience Portefeux from meek police stooge to the head of a massive (illegal) weed distribution enterprise. Though any possibility of this movie living up to the oblivious and/or camp heights of this pitch is totally fuzzed out by the overwhelming vapidness of Mama Weed’s screenplay and Salomé’s filmmaking. His career mostly having kept to the dark realm of French blockbusters (The Mummy knockoff, Belphégor, Phantom of the Louvre in 2001, for instance), Salomé appears unable to move beyond the type of corporate solemnity one associates with big-budget, commercial cinema, this smaller production bearing a comparably crass sense of style.
The screenplay (penned by both Salomé and Hannelore Cayre, the author of Mama Weed’s source text) isn’t any more artful, a procedural that clumsily leads into an empowerment narrative for Patience, a put-upon French/Arabic translator working with the police on surveilling drug dealers (while also entertaining a boring relationship with a senior officer). Initially mousy and naive, patience begins to finally come into her own when she learns to use her privileged position to tip-off dealers and deceive police, eventually masterminding an entire underground business operation earning her the Mama Weed moniker. Huppert is, naturally, Mama Weed’s best asset, but it’s rare that the screenplay gives her the chance to go off, a couple playful moments where her day job and alt job come into conflict (in a fight with her boyfriend: “I don’t know if it’s female solidarity, but I’m beginning to like Mama Weed”), but the otherwise tepid characterization is, understandably, met with a performance only marginally more engaged.
Mama Weed doesn’t really have much to offer in terms of thrills or inspiration, its original French title La Darrone a more appropriately drab title for this drab film, which occasionally punctures the tedium of its formulas with stretches of risible, liberal glibness. Totally ill-considered, Huppert’s character’s foray into the weed economy is built off of the work and risk of vulnerable people (some identified as immigrants), mostly faceless and in service of her ultimate spiritual (and financial) gain, cast aside at a moment’s notice. This obviously echoes real world dynamics in the weed industry, both legal and not, but Mama Weed’s characters play out this scenario as if it were a natural order, free of critique. Patience eventually learns to empathize with her employees and hate the cops, but this is, of course, superficial, not to mention based in racist trope. It’s not necessarily surprising that Mama Weed plays into some of these uglier cliches, the media never really tired of perpetuating them, but what does alarm is the total disinterest in trying to avoid them, the commitment to do the least from all involved.