Written and directed by Ryan Lacen, fighting for her own life and the ones she loves, a mother in New Mexico sinks deeper in her addiction while struggling to surface for her daughter. Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jackie Cruz, Kristen Gutoskie, Luis Bordonada, Valentina Herrera, Lisandra Tena, Alma Sisneros and Jorge Garcia.
Tackling the subject of addiction in mothers is one that deserves its fair share of the conversation because it’s typically only portrayed in a judgemental and unsympathetic light. Representations often skip over that addiction is not a choice and immediately frame these women as bad mothers, so it’s a nice change of pace to switch up the perspective. It may be complicated in its emotions but its intentions are quite simple, to portray a struggling mother who wants to work to do what’s best for her child. That simplicity works but it does come at the price of knowing exactly where this is going and what type of journey its protagonist has gone through to get to this point. There aren’t any surprises in store so what it’s relying on is the emotional connection.
It’s an element which has a mixed success, the relationship between mother and daughter will always be able to hit a sympathy button. However, the way that Ryan Lacen’s presents the story is quite formulaic, both in progression and in the dialogue. There isn’t much of a natural flow to the writing, some of it can feel forced or clumsy. It seems as though it’s trying to bring a more poetic touch to the atmosphere and it sends things down the wrong path. Especially when the story is calling out for some grit and honesty, it may be based in truth but it feels as though it’s unlikely to be an accurate reflection of what these women went through. It has a lightened or glamorised touch to it, even if it still isn’t glamorous in itself. It also would have been great to see it share the focus more, considering it is running fairly long at an hour and fifty minutes, giving some of that time to show the larger common experience of mothers and addiction would have been to its advantage.
Another part of its struggle to really build a solid emotional foundation is the performance from Melissa Barrera. Not because of her acting but because of how her character is created. There’s no real personality to her, it also feels exactly by the book and predictable and there’s no room for her to bring charisma or a true relatability. Having to work with dialogue which doesn’t feel organic holds her back. Although surprisingly, those that appear in supporting roles do get more to work with, particularly Jackie Cruz who brings a big energy. As well as Jorge Garcia who’s full of sympathy, generosity and warmth, his scenes with Barrera are a highlight of the film.
All the World is Sleeping had great intentions, it’s important to show how mothers with addiction are treated, causing a vicious cycle but the execution falls into sentimentality. It misses out on bringing a grit or raw quality to truly bring this story to life and do it justice. The transitions, editing and direction are all leaning on a negatively nostalgic style as it trapses through the past. All of which feels much too obvious and is time that would have been better served in the present. It struggles to build genuine emotion and sincerity, it’s a worthwhile story but it’s being interpreted through a forced attempt at a poetic nature and it doesn’t work.