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Uma Thurman in MOTHERHOOD (Photo: iDeal Partners Film Fund)

Written & Directed by Katherine Dieckmann
Produced by
Christine Vachon & Pamela Koffler
Released by iDeal Partners Film Fund
USA. 90 min. Rated PG-13
Uma Thurman, Minnie Driver & Anthony Edwards

In the middle of Motherhood, the husband of beleaguered mother and writer Eliza comments that her latest writing is “banal.” Banal is the nicest word to apply to Motherhood.

Eliza (Uma Thurman) is the typical New York matriarch—overwhelmed, stressed, and lost in her everyday duties. These duties seem to consist of grocery shopping, parking, organizing a birthday party, parking, cleaning, parking, going to the playground, parking. In between she squeezes in blogging about her household travails, writing an essay on the meaning of motherhood, and keeping tabs on her absentminded but well-meaning husband (Anthony Edwards). And all this in a mere day!

Just writing about her schedule is exhausting, and Eliza, in her drab bohemian clothes and flyaway hair, looks like she’s one step away from a mental breakdown. This is what motherhood does to woman—it breaks her down, beats her up, and leaves her to pick up the pieces of her former self. Unglamorous, unsung, but ultimately—rewarding?

This question is the center of Katherine Dieckmann’s film, and to their credit, the cast does the most they can with the predictable script. For an essay contest that could lead to a full-time writing position, Eliza confronts what being a mother really means to her. This, of course, naturally involves interactions with New Age single mothers; a handsome, flirtatious young messenger; and inevitably, a half-hearted escape to New Jersey.

All of these events would be more palatable if Eliza were in the least sympathetic. Her very real complaints seem less and less justified and more and more like whining as the movie goes on. So she has to live in two, separate apartments? She has two rent controlled (rent controlled!) apartments in Greenwich Village. She has to haul home three armfuls of grocery bags with no help from a man? So does every single woman in New York. And her blogs, instead of being sharp, incisive, witty observations about maternal life, sound more Good Housekeeping than The New Yorker

Why Eliza is so dissatisfied with her life is bewildering. She has two healthy, lovely children, a stable home, and a loving husband. Most of her complaints seem to center around the promising career she left behind as a writer. But her lack of creative inspiration resembles more the groaning of a dilettante than an actual artistic crisis.   

Dieckmann seems to think that throwing obstacle after obstacle at poor Eliza will foster some sort of revelation about what motherhood is really like. The result is that she never lets her characters breathe. Instead, they are caricatures spinning like tops from the flurry of events that surround them. Thurman is reduced to the picture of nervous exhaustion, while Edwards is blander than bland as the milquetoast husband. Only Minnie Driver infuses her character with a spark of humor. Of course, that humor is largely derived from the fact she plays a divorced mother, impregnated by her former rebound lover who left her, and is now forced to find sexual satisfaction with her child’s bath toy. Phew—I’m left stunned by the description alone.

Don’t get me wrong—I give kudos to all mothers out there, single, married, city, or suburban. There is no job more thankless and more vital than being responsible for shaping a human life. Yet when a snotty twentysomething accuses Eliza of being a bourgeois hypocrite, we are inclined to cheer him on instead of wanting to slap him. Lisa Bernier
October 23, 2009



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