At a time when cases of domestic violence have hit an all-time high, Donna comes as a timely warning of how marriages can turn toxic even after a fairytale start. Donna is the true story of a woman who dared to walk out of an abusive marriage with three children, one of them, the eldest boy, not born out of the catastrophic wedlock that she struggles to wriggle out of, and nearly fails as the legal system doesn’t seem to favour a woman with a weak financial status.
Donna delivers a blow, though not hard enough. That’s because the film’s greatest advantage is also its biggest weakness. Bravely director Jaret Martino refuses to demonize the violent husband outright. This is a very commendable scriptural device. The easiest method to glean sympathy for Donna would be to show the husband Nick as an outright monster, capable of getting really nasty with his fists when pushed to the wall.
Nick, as played by a wicked-looking Anthony Ficco, is shown to be a good caring father, even to his stepson, though admittedly a terrible husband. The way he sneers at his wife’s family even asking them rudely to leave his house is not going to win him brownie points in a domestic court.
No. The domestic abuse here is far less in-your-face. And that makes the marital battle far more complex. Debutant director Jaret Martino is not up to it. This is his own mother’s story. The proximity to the subject is too much to handle for the young director. Many times I could see the director getting overwhelmed by the intensity of the proceedings. When in doubt, he simply lets the drama collapse.
Happily, the director has a competent if not great, cast to support his dream to bring his mother’s nightmare alive. Kate Amundsen in the eponymous role is physically correct in the part, and in showing wounds that never heal and scars that never show. She also transmutes into the various age brackets required in the time passage.
But the script doesn’t allow her to do anything radically powerful. At best she is a brave abused woman, though the character had the potential to be a lot more. There are passages in the plot that transcend the inherent lack of a vision and ambition in the presentation. Donna’s confrontation with her uppity mother-in-law (who tries to calm her down with a boys-will-be-boys explanation for the spousal violence ) has a certain heft lacking in other scenes.
On the plus side, the period passages are well achieved with the songs, clothes and attitude of the eras reflect a tentative transformation in Donna’s life and destiny. Wait for the end credits when we see the real Donna interacting with the make-believe one. It is a moment of revelation.
Directed by Jaret Martino, Donna: Stronger Than Pretty gets 2 and a half stars!
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