For A Harried Mom, A Real Fairy Tale Of An Ending

W: Uma Thurman and Anthony Edwards in 'Motherhood'

Supermom: Eliza (Uma Thurman, center, with Anthony Edwards) is on a mission to succeed as a writer and still throw the best birthday party ever for her daughter — even if it means losing her mind in the process. Freestyle Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Freestyle Releasing

Motherhood

  • Director: Katherine Dieckmann
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

Rated PG 13:

With: Uma Thurman, Minnie Driver and Anthony Edwards

To be fair, the timing could hardly be worse: While millions of Americans pare their grocery budgets to the bone and muddle through without health insurance, along comes a comedy — at least I think that's what it's reaching for — about how difficult it is to nurture your inner artist while raising kids in two rent-stabilized apartments in the West Village.

Then again, Motherhood doesn't really need a recession to call attention to its flaws. The movie's a perfect dud on its own terms.

Writer-director Katherine Dieckmann might have had an easier time reaching her economy-battered audiences if her film aspired to nothing more than popcorn escapism. Working from her own experience, she's trying instead for a sympathetic critique of the multiple burdens borne by the modern woman who wants it all.

Elsewhere (notably in Diggers, a scabrously funny, delicately observed 2006 study of clam diggers scrabbling to survive in 1970s Long Island), Dieckmann has shown great talent, so perhaps she's too close to her material here. Motherhood is 90 minutes of privileged complaint — the script smacks of Carrie Bradshaw — spiced with muddled retro-feminism and coyly sprinkled at the eleventh hour with fairy-tale sugar.

The movie spans 24 addled hours in the life of Eliza (Uma Thurman), a former music reviewer whose ambitions to write fiction — or at least score a paying gig as a blogger (good luck with that, honey) — about "what motherhood means to me" are thwarted in all the usual dismally banal ways. Her normally sensitive spouse (Anthony Edwards) is distracted by work and by his mania for first editions, several priceless copies of which have landed on the street outside their house with a foreshadowing thud.

Minnie Driver and Uma Thurman in 'Motherhood' i i

Eliza and her pregnant best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver, center, with an unidentified actress) struggle to balance mommy duties with the irresistible draws of city living — sample sales not least among them. Freestyle Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Freestyle Releasing
Minnie Driver and Uma Thurman in 'Motherhood'

Eliza and her pregnant best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver, center, with an unidentified actress) struggle to balance mommy duties with the irresistible draws of city living — sample sales not least among them.

Freestyle Releasing

All the other mothers in sight, except of course the dryly ironic, supportive-unto-death BFF (Minnie Driver, deep into pregnancy herself but mugging gamely) are pea-brained but impeccably turned-out hypermoms; they blather on about organic nutrition and faint at the sight of a famous movie star (played by the lady herself) who appears briefly, like a product placement, then vanishes. And the parking! The road rage! The New York attitude! I mean, people are calling Eliza "Ma'am," and she's only just hit her 40s. In the face of such adversity, wouldn't the artiste within bail out on you, too?

As a parent and a writer myself, I get it that most working mothers with small children count it as a good day if they leave the house in something other than their pajamas. (For some of us, leaving the house at all would be a fine thing.) But really, even in the name of gritty realism or Oscar-grabbing star turns, how badly do we want to see Uma Thurman's sinuous glow buried in laundered-gray nighties, bag-lady socks and moan, moan, moan?

On the bright side, a soulful and decorative pizza delivery boy (Arjun Gupta) thinks Eliza is pretty despite the steady onset of middle-age sag, and his attentions inspire a brief but wild dance sequence.

A bit later, Eliza drives away from it all to the tune of a pleasant (and spell-it-out expository) soundtrack, only to return home before long and pick up more or less where she left off. Turns out there's no wrong that can't be set right by a therapeutic chat with a hubby who's willing to make sacrifices so you can be the best you can be. Or a birthday party filled with sweetly expectant kiddie faces. Or finally, inevitably and shamefully, the fortuitous arrival in the mail of a fat check that dissolves the recessionary brow-furrow at a stroke.

If this were Sex and the City — or any of the other daft chick-fodder films lobbed at women by the studios in recent years — we might roll our eyes and go back to folding the laundry. But given Dieckmann's ambition to explore the dilemmas of the have-it-all modern woman, all this strenuous bow-tying reeks of authorial bad faith.

And not only the author's: I was shocked to discover that Motherhood was produced by Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler, energetic promoters of fringe filmmakers like Todd Haynes and Mary Harron. If they're looking for a witless hit to finance their art movies, they got the witless part right. "Hit" may well be another matter.

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