Grief is a subject addressed countless times in film and television, but what about the coma? Now that I’ve read that sentence out loud, it sounds pretty bad. Sorry! In Maria Mealla’s feature film Bring Me An Avocado, she tells the story of a family rocked by the mother’s months-long coma.
Robin (Sarah Burkhalter) and George (Bernardo Peña) are the well-adjusted parents of two little girls, Isabel (California Poppy Sanchez) and Matilda (Michaela Robles). But life never gets better in dramas. In one of the most shocking examples of “fridging” I’ve ever seen (No spoilers! You just need to see it), Robin finds herself in a coma after botched mugging attempt.
George and the girls, plus Robin’s sister Greece (Molly Ratermann) and her best friend Jada (Candace Roberts) must adapt to their new circumstance as their lives are placed on an extended hold pattern. While death is final and loved ones can grieve and move on, when a loved one is physically unavailable, life comes to a grinding halt with no resolution in sight.
Writer/director Maria Mealla does an admirable job exploring the family’s plight. George is now a single father, but depressed and alone has made parenting his two girls difficult. He wakes up late and gives in to the girl’s scheme to skip school for a few days (which doesn’t seem that unreasonable considering their mom is in a coma). Greece and Jada play an important support system for the family. Greece becomes a surrogate parent to her nieces. Jada is a fantastic cook and prepares meals for the family along with a few chores.
“…when a loved one is physically unavailable, life comes to a grinding halt with no resolution in sight.”
This plan appears to operate like a well-oiled machine, but soon the gears start to fall off. George is growing more frustrated with hospital visits telling his wife to “call him when you wake up.” He’s also feeling overwhelmed managing his kids, the house, and hospital visits and his masculine brain thinks he can do it all by himself. It’s the classic stretched-to-thin-drome.
Help from friends quickly turns into a hindrance. Greece is over so much, that George feels like she’s taking over for Robin (implying he’s a bad parent) and he’s feeling smothered at the same time never having time alone. The helpful Jada starts tidying up and meddling with the way Robin organized the house, leading to a huge shouting match.
George then starts missing the physical intimacy he had with his wife, which turns into some bad choices by George. Isabel and Matilda are also having a hard time processing their mother’s condition and begin lashing out at one another.
I assume that director Mealla has a personal connection to her story. She pretty much goes down the checklist of emotions, trials, and problematic family dynamics that would naturally come to light. It’s fairly comprehensive and relatable to anyone caught in similar situations. Bring Me An Avocado offers some good performances from the leads, particularly for an this indie film. The story does sometime feel like it’s checking items off a list, but Mealla does wrap it in a nice tight little story.
There are two big negatives. The first is the event leading to the coma. I won’t give any details, but it’s shocking and a little over-the-top. I apologize if this event actually happened, but as presented in the movie along with the story’s jovial tone leading up to it, the way it played out came dangerously close to feeling comedic.
“…goes down the checklist of emotions, trials, and problematic family dynamics that would naturally come to light.”
The second problem is common for emerging screenwriters and it’s a lack of character development. I’m not referring to each characters’ arc in the story, but the development of the character prior to the film’s first frame. All characters are presented as fairly generic mom, dad, kids, aunt, and best friend. Ultimately, they lack depth. We don’t get a deep understanding of the dynamic between Robin and George other than they love each other and are fun parents. Why is Robin and Jada best friends outside of them stating it? What kind of sisters are Robin and Greece? What makes Isabel and Matilda different that the average generic sisters? Answering these and many more questions gives them depth and makes them more interesting…and more challenging to portray for the actors.
In fairness, there are moments when stories from the past are told to shed light on the relationships and the opening scene is a good start too. The problem is the stories hum at a level four, when in drama it needs to hit a nine or better yet, got to eleven. These stories should inform the way the character acts (thus aiding the actors’ portrayal). In other words, these stories should do more than describe the relationship, it should be a subtext to the way the character presents themselves on screen and why they make certain decisions integral to the plot, particularly an important moment between George and Jada.
Bring Me An Avocado is a good film addressing issues families face with a member is incapacitated and unavailable for whatever reason. The issues and events feel real and authentic. It’s the way the characters are developed that keeps the film at good, when it should be profound.
Bring Me An Avocado (2019) Written and directed by Maria Mealla. Starring Bernardo Peña, Sarah Burkhalter, Molly Ratermann, Candance Roberts, California Poppy Sanchez, Michaela Robles.
6.5 out of 10 stars