‘Good Madam’ Has Some Great Performances In An Uneven Film [Review]
The leads did everything they could with this one.
Good Madam is an A24-era-inspired psychological thriller that attempts to comment on apartheid. While it tells you its topic, it never gives you a thesis. This is a damn shame because there is something here that you want to root for. However, the film is missing something to hold all of the good parts together. So it feels hollow as it falls apart in your hands.
Good Madam follows Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa), who is forced to move in with her estranged mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe). Tsidi’s grandmother raised her but recently passed away. Her death has given the men in the family a way to take the only home Tsidi has ever known. Mavis is a devoted servant who has worked for and lived with Diane for decades. The movie plays with the idea that Mavis’ devotion might be caused by some malevolent force.
I do not doubt that Good Madam was made with good intentions. However, about thirty minutes in, I made a note to Google the writer and director. I knew I would find that this was someone who had not lived the experience they are trying to have a commentary on. This movie feels like someone has studied racism, classicism, and apartheid. They’ve taken notes and are now trying to pull it together while still being too removed from the experience to get it.
I love that we have a predominantly Black cast. However, some of the characters and relationships are failed because this is someone who has not felt the weight of these topics trying to comment on them. That comment feels like an exploration of what they think it feels like to be a Black family still dealing with the fallout of apartheid. It makes this a slow-burn spectator sport and an uncomfortable watch for those who have thoughts based on lived experience. There are twelve writers listed on this film. So I cannot put all of the blame on the writer/director Jenna Cato Bass. Again, Bass probably has good intentions, but this film feels like it is missing something every step of the way.
We see Tsidi’s reaction to the idea of her family forcing her brother into her home while she is still grieving. As a Black woman, I’m familiar with these family dynamics and being disrespected by your own. So, I waited to see the backstory, but we never got it. I understand what it feels like to grow up with systems in place to make you feel less than a person. Seeing Tsidi try to get her mother to realize her Madam is not leaving her bedroom and she does not have to carry on this way is heartbreaking. However, it feels like the filmmaker is more intent on making Tsidi an angry Black woman instead of breaking the surface to unpack why she is angry.
There are plenty of reasons to feel however she feels. Rage is probably part of it, but ultimately she is another Black woman trying to survive. Making her angry as a path to get to an unreliable narrator feels careless in a film that should be examining the impact of racism on three generations of Black women. I could write multiple essays on how Tsidi’s family is repeatedly failed by this movie. However, they would all lead back to the importance of needing more Black women directors. Which is a conversation no one seems to want to hear.
The performances are great and are the reason I finished Good Madam. Both Cosa and Mtebe do their damndest to fill in the holes and give us the characters we deserve. The movie also sneaks in a couple of unsettling moments, so this creepy atmosphere does not go to waste. This 92-minute runtime could have given us more scares seeing how it refuses to address the intergenerational trauma of the situation.
Tsidi’s daughter Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya) is not given the connective tissue to work with as the third generation. I understand her unrealized purpose, but again I had to fill in the gaps with my experiences. The audience is left to connect the dots for her along with the film’s message as a whole. It’s sad because these systems impact every generation, and this character could have been utilized to bring that home.
I think there were some good ideas that got lost along the way. Good Madam is held back by having someone so removed from the experience at the helm. I think it is worth a watch if you are willing to envision the movie it wanted to be and support these actors. However, I can’t find many other reasons to watch this one.
Let me know what you think of this movie at @misssharai.
‘Good Madam’ may have good intentions but something is amiss. However, the actors are phenomenal and make it worth the watch.