2023 is shaping up to be the year for movie moms who can pack a punch. Sang-ho Yeon’s Jung_E saw the titular soldier (played by Kim Hyun-joo) bonding with her daughter after learning that she had failed her final mission and was turned into an android mercenary. In Jon Wright’s Unwelcome, a pregnant Hannah John-Kamen dealt with rude Irish folk and murderous goblins. Rani Mukherjee took on the might of a foreign government and her own in-laws in Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway. Jeon Do-yeon kicked, punched, hacked, and slashed her way through hordes of mercenaries while maintaining a semblance of a relationship with her daughter in Kill Boksoon. And Alyssa Sutherland contorted her body in unimaginable ways while trying to consume the souls of her children and sister in Evil Dead Rise. That said, there have been some missteps in the form of Mrs. Undercover, The Mother, and Mafia Mamma. Thankfully, the Polish film Mother’s Day can count itself among the greats, with Agnieszka Grochowska going down in history as one of the best movie moms!
Mother’s Day follows Nina, a former secret agent who lives by herself in an apartment in Poland. She has a son, Maks, who lives with his adoptive parents, unaware of the fact that Nina is his real mother and that his real father was killed in action. One day, Maks gets kidnapped by a trio of goons: Volto, Titus, and Baton. Now these guys happen to be working for a Russian diplomat, thereby putting them high on the list of “most wanted individuals” amongst the Polish police. Nina’s friend, Igor, is a bumbling and sneezing cop who works there and is aware of Maks’ kidnapping as well as the notoriety of Volto, Titus, and Baton. So, he connects the dots and sends Nina in Baton’s direction, who then manages to locate Titus and Volto all by herself. However, Igor’s estranged relationship with his own daughter indicates that Maks’ kidnapping isn’t as simple as it looks, and Nina is wading into something that’ll upend Maks’ and her lives forever.
The narrative drummed up by co-writers Mateusz Rakowicz and Lukasz M. Mackiejewski is quite convoluted. On one end, you have a mother fighting for her son’s life, a son whom she has only observed from afar, thereby making it a one-way relationship. And on the other end, you have this international conspiracy, which has very obvious political connotations due to the current relationship between Poland and Russia. Therefore, there’s a tonal imbalance between Nina’s personal journey and the scandal unfolding between the neighboring countries. But unless you’re constantly thinking about how the two subplots connect to each other, you won’t be bothered by it because Rakowicz and Mackiejewski put the Poland vs. Russia stuff in the background pretty early on to focus on Nina and Maks’ journey. With that said, I’ve to point out that the evolution of Nina and Maks’ relationship is largely through action sequences and exposition. So, if you don’t like kooky, campy fights, and if you don’t think Grochowska and Delikta’s performances are good, Mother’s Day can be underwhelming. That wasn’t the case for me, and that was why I found myself thoroughly enjoying it all.
Within its tight 90-minute running time, Mother’s Day features three major setpieces, while smaller fights are strewn around here and there. Although they aren’t as clean-cut as the ones from the John Wick franchise or as frenetic as the ones from the Crank movies, Rakowicz does seem to be inspired by both of them, and he attempts to exist somewhere in the middle. There’s a beautiful balance between style and substance as Rakowicz and his team keep increasing the weirdness of the choreography while deteriorating Nina’s physical state in an incredibly realistic fashion. I don’t recall seeing a fight using beer cans, and this film has one, complete with glorious slow-motion shots of frothy alcohol. When anyone says “kitchen fight,” Raid 2 comes to mind, doesn’t it? After watching this Netflix film, you’ll probably bring up the dynamic use of the camera and the creative use of carrots in its kitchen fight sequence. And although I’ve seen fist-machete-and-gun fights in flare-lit, wet settings, this was my first time witnessing dual tasers, wielded like dual knives, being brought into the mix. It’s all truly applause-worthy. A major shoutout goes to the production designers, editors, cinematographers, stunt experts, and sound designers for creating such an immersive atmosphere.
As mentioned before, the star attraction of Mother’s Day is Agnieszka Grochowska. Usually, I can tell when there’s a switch between the actor and the stunt performer in action movies. But, after sitting with the film for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that I think Agnieszka has done a lot of her own action, or the switches are just that seamless. Either way, it’s due to Grochowska’s commitment to the rule that you feel that Nina is going through one of the worst moments of her life. Her physical exhaustion and her motivation to protect Maks are palpable. Her no-nonsense attitude never feels cold. Instead, it hints at her world-weariness. When she sees Maks overreact to the whole situation, she doesn’t offer words of solace and instead waits for him to calm down because she knows that’s what people do. Every time she has a gun pointed at her, she exudes confidence and only exhibits vulnerability when no one is watching or when she wants her loved ones to know that she cares. It’s a pretty masterful performance. Dariusz Chojnacki infuses Igor with a brand of pathetic vibes that are both infuriating and hilarious. Szymon Wróblewski steals the show as a psychosexual monster. Although Sebastian Dela and Konrad Eleryk don’t get a lot of screen time, they do garner some laughs. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they are all fantastic, especially those who are in Volto’s gang.
Mother’s Day is a great action movie. It knows what it is, and it doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. Agnieszka Grochowska is amazing, and given the sequel tease, I want to watch her in at least five more movies set in this universe. Now, with that out of the way, I want to take a moment to wonder what’s going on with made-for-Netflix international films and made-for-Netflix American films. The former, regardless of their genre, have a professional feel to them, while the latter, regardless of their genre, look shoddy. Since there’s a similarity between The Mother and Mother’s Day in terms of their plots, I can point to them, and show the qualitative chasm that exists between them. If you see Furie, Furies, The Night Comes For Us (i.e., all non-American films), and then Mother’s Day, you will see that they look and sound so good. And then, if you tune into two of the biggest American Netflix releases, Red Notice and The Gray Man, you’ll think Rakowicz’s film has a higher budget than theirs. So, what’s going on here? Please share your theories on this phenomenon, along with your thoughts on the movie.