Director: Katherine Dieckmann
Cast: Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver
MPAA Rating: (for language, sexual references and a brief drug comment)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 10/23/09
Review by Mark Dujsik
If she writes what she knows, I'd hate to spend a day in the shoes of writer-director Katherine Dieckmann. Her movie Motherhood, which I suppose is meant to be an ode to the bittersweet nature of the titular state but never hits the sweet part of it, is full of constant frustrations, disappointments, resentments, and a bunch of antagonistic people for the heroine to confront.
I can kind of relate to a degree, because I felt a constant sense of frustration, disappointment, and resentment while watching Motherhood.
There's something inherently phony about relating the difficult task of being a parent by highlighting the daily inconveniences of a yuppie who's trying to assemble her daughter's birthday party on the day of said party, while balancing her desire to shop and write a 500-word essay about being a mother to win a contest.
Maybe it's simply because I'm not too sympathetic to someone being annoyed by the troubles of getting together an important event because she waited until the last minute to do so. It might be because the shopping for clearance clothing will come again. It might be because 500 words is a breeze for anyone with even a negligible bent for writing.
It's probably because I know mothers who have it much worse off than Eliza Welsh (Uma Thurman), ones who struggle to find ways to feed their kids, make sure the kids are properly cared for while they're at work to pay rent, and have their own personal issues of a lot more weight than these in the movie that continually take the backseat because, well, the kids have to come first.
So when Eliza is bugged by the narrow stairwell to her and her husband's two apartments, the need to move her car because of street cleaning, the towing of the same car a few blocks away because there's a crew filming on her block, and not being able to write blog entries more often than every 30 minutes, I just can't relate to the point of empathy.
The movie is full of these little setbacks, exploded to full-out bursts of anger and aggravation, and it certainly doesn't help that apparently everyone in the West Village of Manhattan has an axe to grind with everyone else because of their own small hassles. It's not a flattering portrait of New Yorkers, who seem to go off the deep end every time someone talks on a cell phone while waiting in line, doesn't take that single step to bridge the gap when someone exits the line, and makes the misspelling of the name Clara on your daughter's birthday cake your fault because you named your daughter Clara.
It's also yet another bit of counterfeit conflict, which the movie has in spades. Eliza's husband (Anthony Edwards) has his hobby of collecting antiquarian books (which becomes an unbelievably convenient piece of deus ex machina that seemingly solves every single little problem), and Eliza doesn't care for the tomes stacking up in their apartment (even though they have a pretty vacant extra one across the hall). She also doesn't think he's pulling his weight and resents him for it.
It's never flat-out stated, but there's an undercurrent of resentment riding throughout the movie that's probably the only truly honest thing in it. Heaven forbid a movie about motherhood actually tackle something so tricky directly; we have goody bags to fill and hostile clerks with whom to deal.
Eliza also has her fellow mothers to compete with. She meets them in the park regularly, and they all have their quirks. One breaks down into tears when her son does to try to emphasize their personal connection. Eliza sits in judgment of them all, except for her pregnant friend Shelia (Minnie Driver), who sits in judgment of Eliza for publishing a private story online about Shelia's experiments with her son's toy submarine while in the bath.
All of these misadventures eventually lead to Eliza genuinely blowing up and having a breakdown (within this context, it seems no more substantial an event than every other blow-up and breakdown that precedes it), and if she really becomes that miffed by the tiny irritations of a regular day, it's shocking she never tried to run away from her evidently unfulfilling, maddening, and unbearable life before this particular day.
Where is the sweetness of the bittersweet in Motherhood? I suppose it's implied by the general tone of lightheartedness Dieckmann tries to infuse into the proceedings, but when everything that happens in the movie is full of such thinly veiled antipathy, it's nearly impossible to find.The lesson, I guess, is that it really sucks being a mom, but it's also incredibly unrewarding.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.