Uma Thurman, recently in the Windy City for the Chicago International Film Festival, has been telling reporters that the reason she was interested in starring in Katherine Dieckmann's Motherhood is because there haven't been enough films made about
the day-to-day life of the modern matriarch. That's an undeniable fact.
If there's a major character in a film and the identification of her as
a mother is a crucial part of the story then it's almost certain that
she's either going to die in a touching hospital bed scene or turn into
“Mommie Dearest.” We need more films where being a mother in today's
world, something that can be both uniquely challenging and rewarding at
the same time, is more accurately represented.
I say that we need more because this isn’t going to cut it. The truly bad news is that Motherhood sets back the subgenre a few decades. Perhaps the reason they don't make movies about modern mothers is because they too often turn out like this misguided, cluttered, annoying mess of a dramedy, a film only moderately redeemed by the still-luminous Thurman, but even she is dragged down by a truly awful screenplay. Mothers still get no respect.
Set over the course of one crazy day in the life of a Manhattan mother, Uma Thurman is in every scene of Motherhood as Eliza Welsh, a blogger and writer who balances her career aspirations with planning a birthday party for her toddler daughter. The film is framed by both Eliza planning for the party and by working on essay for a contest entitled "What Does Motherhood Mean to Me?" Arguably the fatal flaw in a film filled with them is that Dieckmann never comes close to answering that question. It's a day in the life of a West Village mother of two that doesn't feel organic, genuine, or like actual motherhood.
Over the course of Eliza's day, she is forced to deal with a distant husband (Anthony Edwards), a friend (Minnie Driver) who feels betrayed after Eliza writes about her on her blog, and the general problems of life in the city, including parking restrictions and movie shoots that interrupt your life. Eliza seems perpetually harried, running from party stores to store sales to her kid's school and so on and so on. Yes, a lot of parenthood involves running around so quickly that you barely have time to think about what you're doing but Eliza comes off as flighty more than anything else. Why didn't she plan for her daughter's birthday party AT ALL before the actual day of? She goes to a clothing sale with her friends, claiming that she needs to because the sale is so good that it will save her family money in the long run, but does she really need to TODAY? And a scene where she takes time to relax, flirt, and dance with a messenger who drops something off at her house is simply ridiculous. Eliza comes across as whiny and unfocused. That’s motherhood? As a parent, I can tell you that there are definitely days as rough as Eliza's in Motherhood, but on those days, you have to make sacrifices and not dance with the cute messenger, go shopping with your friends (no matter the sale), or lament the career decisions you may have been forced to make. That's motherhood. True motherhood is sacrificing those things, not cramming them into an overcrowded, meandering film.
Thurman remains one of our most interesting actresses and she nearly finds a way to lift Motherhood out of its TV-movie structure and sense of falseness by doing everything in her power to make Eliza three-dimensional. She can balance being strong, sexy, and smart more than most actresses and she was a great choice for the role. Sadly, she was the only smart choice when it comes to Motherhood, an attempt to tell a regularly untold story that justifies why these stories aren't told that often. Actual motherhood isn't one bad day. It's a life of ups and downs and by cramming so many events and archetypes of New York into a single day structure, Dieckmann deflates her own good intentions by removing any sense of realism from Motherhood. Mothers have it tough in both the world of movies and in real life, but Motherhood doesn't help.
Rating: ONE BONE