Earth Mama Movie Review: Debut from Savanah Leaf Slow Plays to a Fault

Review: A24’s Earth Mama strikes at the emotional center of being a single mother, but its slow pacing may keep viewers at arm’s length with the film.

Earth Mama Savanah Leaf review and summary
Earth Mama, Savanah Leaf

Earth Mama is the debut movie from Savanah Leaf and stars Tia Nomore and Erika Alexander. It depicts a pregnant single mother with two children in foster care as she embraces her Bay Area community and fights to reclaim her family.

Earth Mama is a movie best watched with zero distractions. It’s certainly not the most flashy or stylized movie you’ll see in 2023, but there’s a warm sentiment that may just ring through if you can let it wash over you. It has a heart-wrenching story at the center, emphasized by shockingly controlled and weathered performance by newcomer Tia Nomore.

The movie follows Gia (Nomore) as she struggles to hold her outstretched family together amidst trying times financially and legally. She has two kids in foster care that she’s unable to claim back as her own, and another child on the way that she worries may fall to the same fate. It’s a complex narrative about motherhood and community, and how gender and race affect those struggling to stay afloat.

Earth Mama was picked up by A24 after the Sundance Film Festival earlier in 2023, and it’s pretty easy to see why. A24 excels in two genres: arthouse horror and reserved communal dramas. This movie fits snuggly in the same lane as Showing Up and The Last Black Man in San Francisco and both of Sean Baker’s movies with the studio.

They’re all grainy, bittersweet odes to a certain time and place, mixed with a rather saddening story about a struggling individual at the center. I’ve had mixed feelings about a few of the movies I just listed, but when they’re good, they can be really great (The Florida Project is, after all, still A24’s crowning jewel in this critic’s opinion).

And, frankly, it’s hard to feel that Earth Mama levitates above many of the aforementioned pictures. It’s understated, and I wasn’t kidding when I said you need to be in the right mood in order to sit through it. The movie is based on a short film from 2020 titled The Heart Still Hums, and Savanah Leaf sits as the director for both of the projects.

While that short film is a documentary, I think Earth Mama could’ve been quite an effective second short film to pair with it. There’s enough here to fill a shorter runtime, but the movie drags at times in order to build the narrative.

Which is to say that, while tedious may be a malicious word given the context of the movie and a few somber events that take place in it, I found it occasionally hard to get through. There are some incredibly dense, quiet performances throughout, starting with Tia Nomore herself, but not enough to keep you invested from beginning to end.

Reviews for Movies like Earth Mama (2023)

But there are still a few crushing scenes that make their presence felt. At one point, Gia resorts to theft at a playground in order to obtain the nursing items she’ll need when her baby is born. It’s a jolting sequence that gives Earth Mama some life, but it quickly dies down into more moodier events that follow.

I think there could’ve been more of that. Earth Mama is a devastating movie about broken families and the struggle of being a single mother, but there wasn’t enough bite to the script to warrant a 100 minute runtime.

The cinematography is noticeable unobtrusive, paving the way for some brilliant performances. The plot summary noted an emphasis on Bay Area as a key touchstone of the movie’s themes, but I felt the world around Gia wasn’t explored enough to say it was a universal success – the opposite of how I feel about The Florida Project or The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Those movies live in fully realized communities, whereas Earth Mama doesn’t move around enough in the space of this setting.

So while I think there’s a specific niche that would find Earth Mama incredibly powerful, I think I was the wrong audience member for this one. I did have the thought at one point that maybe I’ll have a different perspective on this movie when I have kids of my own, but for now I’m just speculating.


Genre: Drama

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Earth Mama Movie Cast and Credits

Earth Mama movie poster


Tia Nomore as Gia

Erika Alexander as Miss Carmen

Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Monica


Director: Savanah Leaf

Writer: Savanah Leaf

Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes

Editor: George Cragg

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