Despite impressive cinematography, “Roma” fails to assemble a captivating narrative.

This year’s movie awards season is off to a lukewarm start. The year’s sure-fire motion picture hits include “A Star Is Born,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Green Book.” A trio of cinematic misses is still garnering Golden Globe nominations ahead of next month’s Oscar announcements. These strikeouts comprise Hollywood darlings “The Favourite,” “Widows,” and unfortunately, “Roma.” 

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, who rightfully earned two Academy Awards in 2014 for his breathtaking space adventure “Gravity,” now turns the movie camera to his childhood upbringing in Mexico City during the early ’70s. A semi-autobiographical film, “Roma” traces the life of a Mexican live-in housekeeper who experiences one bad break after another.

A masterpiece of cinematography, “Roma” exudes a bustling Mexican culture through its entire black-and-white presentation. The colorless storytelling skillfully timestamps the vast differences in lifestyles found within Mexico’s largest city. “Roma” examines both affluent and poor households, effectively highlighting maid Cleo’s (Yalitza Aparicio) back-and-forth between cleaning duties for a wealthy family and her own desperate attempt to fit in while overcoming significant personal challenges. 

Named for the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, “Roma” recreates director Cuaron’s childhood memories with a rigid format only he could fully appreciate and comprehend. To the viewer, though, Cleo’s battles with under appreciation as a housekeeper, her abandonment from a boyfriend after announcing her pregnancy and the destruction of the family she looks after, all get glossed over too quickly in this Spanish-speaking film. 

Her bad luck culminates in a stillborn delivery, a citywide riot and gunfight that kills someone close to her and ends with the near-drowning of the children she’s charged to protect. Unfortunately, these seismic life events are never allowed to be fully absorbed before moving on to the next mishap. Cuaron’s laundry list of memories merely checked off for history’s sake in a pretentious and monotonous manner.

Award-winning director Cuaron deserves credit for his filmmaking success in 2013’s “Gravity.” But each new film must be graded on its own merits, regardless of the director’s past work. Just as “Dumb and Dumber” director Peter Farrelly can hit a home run with Oscar-worthy “Green Book” this year, Alfonso Cuaron can have strikeouts along his movie journey. My advice is to give another successful director’s cinematic eye a chance later this week, like Clint Eastwood directing and starring in “The Mule.”

Grade: D

“Roma” is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s available on Netflix and showing at The Loft Cinema beginning this Friday, Dec. 14.

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at  Email him at

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