For many viewers, all you’ll need to hear is “Isabelle Huppert plays a drug smuggler named Mama Weed” in order to book your front row seat for Jean-Paul Salomé’s new crime caper. It’s easy to see why, as Huppert is one of the best actors we have today, making each new project she takes on a curiosity at the very least. Salomé’s film Mama Weed milks that, putting much of the weight on her shoulders to carry this somewhat familiar story with a twisty sense of fun. Thankfully, Huppert is up for the task, as she navigates the tricky tonal balance between crime drama and dark comedy with ease, making it look like she could do this in her sleep.
Huppert stars as Patience Portefeux, a French-Arabic police interpreter who spends her days translating the bugged conversations from drug dealers around the city. At night, Patience is visiting her ill mother (Liliane Rovère) at her long-term care facility, which we learn Patience is months behind on making the costly payments for. When the son of her mother’s kindly caretaker finds himself in trouble with the police, and with a lot of drugs out in the wild ready for any intrepid crime lord to snatch on up, Patience sees an opportunity to help out this nice woman while also making some bucks of her own.
Following the path set out from stories as classic as The Godfather and Breaking Bad, Patience’s well-meaning plunge into the criminal underworld soon becomes an obsession, as she quickly takes to the world of going in disguise to run drugs among those she spends her days spying on. With her profession allowing her intel and an easy means to cover her tracks, she is primed to make out like a bandit with no one in her way. Naturally, things aren’t that easy, and the walls eventually begin to close in around Patience.
Based on the novel The Godmother, by Hannelore Cayre, Salomé’s film never quite hits the spark that you keep waiting for it to achieve. There’s a lightness to it, an air in its step, that keeps things moving and easy to watch, yet it’s always teasing a push into the next level that it can’t reach. The script is too much of a breeze to engage with some of the weightier themes it finds itself circling, as the plot incorporates exploitation, privilege, appropriation, and the injustice of the medical industry. As a result, Mama Weed operates on one level that it doesn’t budge from, something which holds it back from being a more substantial picture.
Nevertheless, the director and star are a fair match to keep this a sprightly jaunt for those simply looking for an entertaining time with one of our greatest living actors cutting loose in a slightly bizarre role. There’s no call for realism here in the depiction of Patience’s whirlwind navigation through the criminal world, evading the police along the way, including her cop boyfriend played by Hippolyte Girardot. Their relationship ends up being one of the most interesting elements of the piece, as he seems to know more about her dealings than he’s letting on. Again, however, Salomé plays things too much on the surface to mine the potential there in a satisfying way. Mama Weed is a breezy little dark comedy that you keep wishing would give you that little bit extra, but Huppert fans will likely find the time plenty worth it as she’s clearly having a ball.