With Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love setting the bar for self-indulgence, Mammoth might not quite achieve a new precedent, but that is not through lack of trying.
The film opens with wealthy game-designer Leo (Gael Garcia Bernal) jetting off to Thailand to negotiate an ambiguously illustrious business deal. His travels take him away from overworked surgeon wife Ellen (Michelle Williams) and their prized, but neglected, daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweilde). With Thai nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito) left to do most of the parenting, however, it is difficult to sympathise with either parent as they bemoan their otherwise idyllic lifestyle.
Contrasted with the unfolding tribulations of Gloria’s mother and children over in the Phillipines as they await money from their oversees bread-winner, director Lukas Moodysson is clearly aiming for a Babel inspired critique of globalisation. Falling jarringly short, Moodysson invokes less aspirational comparisons to the aforementioned Eat Pray Love – each attempt at highlighting the plight of the Third World, in reality, only adding to the condescending and shallow nature of our Western characters’ varying strifes.
With each scene contrived to squeeze the greatest amount of goodwill from each character, the numerous inconsistencies stand bold in the nebula of commendable deeds. Both Leo and Ellen spend the entire film pining for one another’s company, lamenting the amount of time they have to spend away from their daughter despite dad’s begrudged multi-million dollar settlement and mum’s persistence at a job that makes her miserable. Are we seriously expected to believe that being a surgeon, or paying off a destitute prostitute not to sleep with you, is sufficient to offsets such unwarranted self-pity?
The light beginning – in which we are randomly bombarded with facts about the solar system – is at odds with the distinctly serious and unsettling subject matter that Moodysson flirts with towards the film’s dénouement. The hit-filled contemporary soundtrack only emphasises the juxtaposition between tones, contributing towards the film’s insincere treatment of controversial subject matter.
While the performances from the three leads – Bernal, Williams and Necesito – are undeniably strong, their characters are so unrelatable and poorly-realised that by the film’s end you are unsure of what personal development the director has been heavy handedly hammering home for the last two hours. Tenuously titled after a mammoth-ivory pen offered to Gale Garcia Bernal’s character as a gift, Mammoth is so condescending, pitying and nauseatingly sentimental as to lose any hope of impacting on its audience.