Monday, April 26, 2010

Mama Movie Review: Motherhood

My partner and I sat down to watch the movie "Motherhood" last night, and I'll admit, I was a bit excited about it.  First of all - I'm usually too freaking tired to watch a movie!  And secondly, could it be that someone actually wrote a movie about my life and put it up there on the big screen? 

"Motherhood" is directed by Katherine Dieckmann and stars Uma Thurman as main character Eliza, Anthony Edwards as her somewhat dopey and preoccupied husband (who is so unpresent in the movie I can't even remember his character's name), and Minnie Driver as her pregnant, single mama best friend Sheila (who seems to have it all together). 

Eliza is a harried, stay-at-home mama of two, who copes with the loss of her pre-baby writing career by blogging about her life in between diaper changes, loads of dishes, runs to the park, and forgotten school lunch-box deliveries.   The movie follows Eliza through one particularly challenging day as she attempts to plan and carry out her daughter's 6th birthday party while also trying to finish an entry to a blogging contest that might jumpstart a new writing career, thus enacting the age old struggle of the love and needs of children vs. the love and needs of self.  These needs, as we all know too well, aren't always entirely compatible, and Eliza spends a good deal of airtime fighting with what she sees as duelling passions.

This movie bombed, and I do mean BOMBED at the box-office.  I think this is probably due to a few factors: 1.  this is a movie about motherhood, and not in the MILF way.    2. This is a movie about motherhood, and not in the "motherhood is most wonderful job in the world" way.   3.  This movie isn't actually, you know, particularly good.   

For the most part, the dialogue is totally contrived.   There are a few stellar monologues delivered by Eliza, but the rest of the time, you are left with the acute feeling that people don't actually talk like that in their day to day lives, even if they are former poetic fiction writers.   And then there is the fact that during this harried, whirlwind of day, neither of Eliza's children are particularly challenging.  In fact, her toddler is so self-occupying and sleepy that he's practically narcoleptic.  Never once is he pictured trying to grab Eliza's sleeves as she blogs, spill paint all over the kitchen table or whine for a snack.   There is nary a tantrum or kid shenanigan to be seen.   

There are other areas that seem incredibly disjointed as well.  The best friend character, who is a pregnant single mama of two, is portrayed as completely calm and distinctly unharried, save for her lack of sexual partners.   And Thurman's Eliza is played as over-the-top frumpy and dishevelled.  Funnily enough, Eliza makes a crack about refusing to resort to wearing "mom jeans".  As a dedicated wearer of jeans, I have to say that I take offense at a character that mocks my jeans-wearing self while wearing a nightie topped with an oversized wrinkly coat to drop her daughter off to school in the morning, with bedhead to boot.   And then there is the small matter of a fleeting romantic moment with a very young, (and super hot) bicycle courier/writer.  About this, all I can say is: I'm pretty sure that when I am all sweaty, out of breath and almost psychotically frenzied, I do not look attractive.  I'm now also quite certain that neither does Uma Thurman.  The family's precarious financial status is a theme throughout the movie (a common reality when one parent isn't in the paid workforce), but this too is disjointed, as Eliza head off to a designer sample sale to buy clothes in one scene, but scolds her husband for buying their daughter an IPOD shuffle for her birthday in another.   

Still - there are a few redeeming features of the movie.  The first is that this is a movie about motherhood.  It refuses to gloss over the gritty, un-fun, exhausting details, which is probably a huge factor in the lack of box-office success.  All of our days as mothers may not be a calamity-filled as Eliza's, but the film does make a sincere attempt to capture some of the conflicted feelings that motherhood can evoke: the urge to get on the freeway and flee one's children while simultaneously experiencing a deep and almost crushing sense of love for them; the difficulty in articulating precisely what it is that is so challenging and emotionally taxing about motherhood, and particularly in this case, stay-at-home motherhood; and the overriding sense of slippage of self.  In its refusal to shy away from these difficult and distinctly unpretty bits of motherhood, I think the film is quite radical.  (There is also a really funny tongue-in-cheeky quip about feminism and motherhood that was really quite surprising to find in a mainstream Hollywood type flick).

There is a wonderful monologue delivered by Eliza near the end of the movie, as she tries to explain to her husband why she feels so disconnected and cut-off from the larger world, and ultimately, from herself:

 It's just that every day from the second I wake up till the second I pass out cold, my day, like the day of almost every other mother I know, is made up of a series of concrete, specific actions.  And they're actions that kind of wear away at passion,  if you know what I mean.  The actions are petty and small like... Like refilling coffee cups or folding underwear.  But they accumulate in this really debilitating way that diminishes my ability to focus on almost anything else.  Bigger things like, you know, ideas or politics or dreams of a better life.

So did the movie live up to my initial excitement?   No, probably not.  The dialogue is mostly kinda lame.  The characters are all pretty one-dimensional.  The obstacles Eliza faces are completely over-the-top.  And her kids are weirdly cooperative and non-demanding. 

But still, Eliza's struggling, kinda bitter, wholly imperfect, cigarettes in the glove-box, swearing, and forgetting-to-buckle-her-kid-in-the-carseat, mom-self is actually a refreshing change from the typical Hollywood Stepford moms

Oh, and there are some really awesome kids tunes at the end of the film in the birthday party scene.  But my TV is too freaking small the actually read the credits - so if anyone else wants to watch the movie and let me know what they are, I'm all ears!

Production: Killer Films, John Wells Prods.
Cast: Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver, Daisy Tahan, Alice Drummond, Arjun Gupta, Clea Lewis
Director-screenwriter: Katherine Dieckmann
Producers: Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon
Executive producer: John Wells
Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber
Production designer: Debbie De Villa
Music: Joe Henry
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Editor: Michael R. Miller


  1. I've never heard of this film...but now you have me interested! Might have to track this one down (if it was even released here!)

  2. Am interested to see this one, hadnt heard of it before all the buzz a couple of weeks ago when bombed to record levels in the UK -- good idea for a flick, even with mediocre execution.