Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal portray Ellen and Leo, a bourgeois bohemian couple living in Manhattan with their young daughter, Jackie (Sophie Nyweide), and their live-in Filipino nanny, Gloria (Marife Necesito). When Leo leaves on a business trip to Thailand, the film begins to weave a tangled web of stories that involving family, ultimately showing that every action has a reaction.
While Leo is away, his family goes about their daily routines. When Ellen’s not working punishing night shifts as an ER doctor, she’s trying to catch up on sleep, shopping languidly at Dean and Deluca or exercising on their private rooftop. She rarely gets to see her daughter, who is gone most of the day in school and has formed a close bond with the nanny, Gloria.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Gloria’s children long for their mother and beg her to return. Crying on the phone, Gloria assures them that she’ll return when she’s made enough money to build them a big beautiful house.
In Thailand, Leo works out a business deal for his Internet gaming company and travels around the islands. While there, he befriends a Thai prostitute named Cookie (Natthamonkarn Srinikornchot) and gifts her with a plethora of cash, instructing her to use the money to quit prostitution. Wanting to show her gratitude, Cookie offers to take him on a tour of the islands. Leo accepts her offer and develops a fondness for Cookie. Through seeing Cookie’s impoverished lifestyle, Leo beings to reexamine his life. Growing increasingly uncomfortable with his wealth, Leo fantasizes about donating his money to charity and traveling.
The film’s strengths can be attributed to its performances. Michelle Williams was filming this movie when news spread of Heath Ledger’s death and one can’t help but wonder if she channeled her real-life grief into creating her impeccable performance as a guilt-ridden mother. Gael Garcia Bernal also delivers an amazing performance, expertly conveying the emptiness of a lavish lifestyle and his yearning for substance.
The flaws are script-related. Moodysson’s first attempt at penning an English screenplay fails to live up to his earlier work; a lot of the dialogue seems lost in translation. He disapproves of the rich and casts a sympathetic light on the poor. Ellen feels like a bad mother for working nights and handing her daughter over to a nanny. And according to Moodyson, she should feel guilty. In shunning her motherly duties, Ellen is essentially taking Gloria away from her two boys in the Philippines. Moodyson vilifies Ellen and Leo for their privilege while celebrating the resilience of Gloria and Cookie.
In dealing with such weighty issues of race, globalization and class, it would’ve behooved Moodysson to step off the soapbox. The subject matter of Mammoth has inherent complexities and depth that he seems to have ignored. Fortunately, the film contains stellar performances from two of the most interesting young actors of today. That, alone, makes it a must-see.