a still from Take Care of Maya
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film “Take Care of Maya” Review: A maddening documentary with no easy answers

“Take Care of Maya” Review: A maddening documentary with no easy answers

a still from Take Care of Maya

When Maya Kowalski was 10, the vivacious Florida girl began exhibiting a troubling array of ailments: her feet began to cramp and curl inward, she couldn’t stop coughing, headaches rendered her nearly incapacitated and lesions appeared on his limbs. Her doting parents, Jack and Beata, were desperate for not even a treatment but simply A diagnosis of what afflicted their beloved firstborn. For Beata, a Polish immigrant and nurse known for her direct nature, it was another challenge to overcome, another medical mystery to unravel.

What was to unfold over the next few years was a nightmare that even the ever-prepared Beata could not foresee, a complicated story with a heartbreaking – and wholly unfinished – conclusion that should terrify everyone. First-time filmmaker Henry Roosevelt attempts to unravel what happened to the Kowalskis (and, as the film claims, what happened to many other American families) in the documentary “Take Care of Maya,” a heartbreaking and ultimately incomplete look at an incredible true story.

If the nuances of this story – sick child, devoted mother, a family tale with unexpectedly broad implications – sound familiar, perhaps you’ve already read Dyan Neary’s excellent 2022 article on The Cut or one of Daphne Chen’s pieces from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and know where this story ends. And while Roosevelt does not try to obscure the tragedy that consumes the documentary’s final act, the efforts with which the director goes to unfold his film in a linear way, all the better to try to find the truth in a complex story, are a choice wise.

Less effective are the various perspectives that Roosevelt swings in and out of as he tells that story. What happened to Maya and Beata has (and likely will only continue to) inspire all kinds of controversy, with everything from Maya’s eventual diagnosis and the Kowalskis’ treatment being pursued to the actions of a local hospital and child protection team of Pinellas County for debate, but Roosevelt’s film hesitates between taking a clear stand on any of the issues at hand.

Not that it’s necessary for a documentary — where objectivity usually reigns — but Roosevelt tries to have it both ways, diving deep into the Kowalskis’ lives and even including surveillance footage of Maya’s many hospital stays that seem shrewdly refute the family own experience. That means it’s up to the viewers to draw their own conclusions, but “Take Care of Maya” doesn’t provide enough information to allow for that. What it does provide, however, is heartbreaking and maddening, a document of a bizarre tragedy that looks set to never have complete closure for anyone involved.

The facts, elusive as that term may be in this case, are as follows and are clearly set out in Roosevelt’s film: After Maya began experiencing her ailments, few physicians could pinpoint a diagnosis until Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick hasn’t offered a complete one with a controversial “cure.” Kirkpatrick stated that Maya had CRPS (“Complex Regional Pain Syndrome”), a rare form of chronic pain which tends to afflict young girls most often and is, much like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, often misunderstood to the point of derision. To cure Maya, Kirkpatrick started her on a regimen of ketamine, eventually ending up with a dose so intense that she was meant to put her in a five-day coma.

When Maya woke up, she felt better until she did. Months after falling into a coma, Beata and Jack took her to a local hospital for treatment, where the various doctors, nurses, and social workers eventually concluded that Maya was not sick and that the meticulous and straightforward Beata was actually the sick one, suffering from the syndrome. of Munchausen. by proxy (hello, “The Act”). For nearly three months, Maya remained in the hospital – where her insurance company, ironically, was billed for her CRPS treatment – while her family, especially Beata, were kept away from her and ruthlessly investigated by the state of Florida.

Roosevelt has a wealth of material to work with to tell this story, thanks to Beata’s detailed notes and audio recordings, as well as a series of interviews with various talking heads, and even deposition material from any skin-throbbing lawsuits. in about five different ways. At times, “Take Care of Maya” almost feels like it mashed potato personal, as Roosevelt follows the Kowalskis through some of their darkest days, delving inside a broken family and only being able to show us the pieces.

That sense of a story made incomplete, of answers we may never fully know, is at the heart of the Kowalski story, but Roosevelt’s film is unable to reconcile it with the constraints and demands of a feature film. Just as one story comes to a horrific conclusion, others begin to spin outward, none of them able to find any sense of closure or completion, just more pain, no cure.

Grade: B-

“Take Care of Maya” premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It will begin streaming on Netflix on Monday, June 19.

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