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Thursday, October 22, 2009

REEL REVIEW: Motherhood (2009) ***

Motherhood (2009) foreign poster

written by: Katherine Dieckman
produced by: Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, Jana Edelbaum & Rachel Cohen
directed by: Katherine Dieckman
rated PG-13 for language, sexual references and a brief drug comment.
Being a mother is different for every woman but there are some feelings, situations and experiences that all mothers can relate to. Writer and director Katherine Dieckman knows that and draws from her own life here as she shares her experiences raising children with her husband in New York City. It's a film certain to resonate with urban mothers (especially those in the 35 to 50 age range) trying to hold on to their identity as they face the daily grind of folding laundry, packing lunches and a sink full of dirty dishes.
The daily grind is exactly what Dieckman gives us, as we spend a day with Eliza (Uma Thurman), a married mother of two, who is scrambling to get everything together for her six year-old's birthday party at 5pm. She and her husband, Avery (Anthony Edwards) live in two rent-stabilized apartments in West Village. The bedrooms are in one; the kitchen, office and living room are down the hall in the other. It's tight but they seem to make it work. Once an aspiring fiction writer, Eliza now blogs snippets of her life from home when she's not picking up toys or kids. She comes across an online pop-up ad for a parenting magazine contest, asking mothers to answer in 500 words or less "What does motherhood mean to me?" We then see her compelled to add this task to her already loaded "To Do" list for the day, the only catch is....it's due by midnight!
Eliza encounters many unforseen obstacles that prevent her from crossing everything off her list. There just so happens to be a film shooting below her apartment which results in her car being towed. Her husband won't answer his cell phone (when he finally appears, he sees that it was on vibrate, "Oh, look at that, eight calls."). She has to use her husband's bicycle to get food and decorations for the party. Not an easy task, especially on a flat tire. The cake decorator got her daughter's name wrong and berates Eliza for giving Clara a "trendy" name. Does any of this sound familiar? It should, since this harried mother is not the first woman who wonders how her current life had come to define her.
Like many parents (not just mothers), Eliza has seen her career desires sidelined by familial obligations. We've seen this portrayed in other films before, so right away many people will connect to this material. We know these characters. They're our friends, neighbors and co-workers. They may even be us, which is relieving when we see them make the same mistakes we do. In fact, the night after I saw this film, my three year-old scolded me for not buckling her in her car seat before we drove off, something that Eliza had done with her son. Thurman, a mother of two herself, exudes an honest familiarity here. It doesn't feel like she's acting the part, just like she knows it. While that does sell the viewer, Thurman also comes across a tad overstated and neurotic at times. It's hard to tell if some of her antics are for comedies sake, dramatic effect or that we just don't know enough about her. That may be the case since we're only spending a day with her.
Carol Commissiong, Minnie Driver and Uma Thurman stars in Freestyle Releasing 'Motherhood.'
There are only a few other adults we see Eliza interract which is not uncommon for a stay-at-home-mom. She can talk and hang out with her pregnant best friend, Sheila (Minnie Driver, pregnant in her third trimester in real life!) who is a good listener and shares an interesting bathtub remedy. Eliza also gets noticed by a younger messenger (played by newcomer Arjun Gupta) who strikes some sexual sparks as she lets her guard down. She sees him noticing her for more than just a mother, a feeling she's unaccostumed to. The scene suffers from its length, as the tone goes from nervous awkwardness to silly awkwardness. It's clear that these interactions have their purpose and revelations but they border on trite.
Eliza also meets plenty of other frazzled moms on the playground where one mom goes to spot celebrities (Jodie Foster has a uncredited cameo as herself, being stalked by paparazzi as she plays with her kid). The addition of rude neighbors and parking nightmares send us plunging into Eliza's maddening routines. Dieckmann knows that Eliza can seem a bit self-indulgent in her whining. At the birthday party, an older neighbor (Alice Drummond) comments that women of an earlier generation dealt with the same pressures but never dreamt of complaining. Sure, her remark seems appropriate but I wonder what Dieckman was trying to say since the majority of filmmakers that worked on this project are women.
Many married couples who have children, come to the point where they realize that their lives have been all about providing and prioritizing for their kids. While the film is focusing on Eliza, it's refreshing that the character of her husband is not written off. Too many times, the husband comes across as clueless, abusive or aloof in film. That's not the case here. Edward's Avery is patient and caring with his children and seems to almost be scrambling as much as his wife albeit with less neurosis. As a parent, we often wind up making mistakes that we had sworn we never would as we get caught up in the same day after day duties. It's good to see that Dieckman reminds us that it's possible not to lose who we and be appreciated for what we do.

Motherhood (2009) poster

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