‘Motherhood’ has a bad day
Whenever a movie requires Uma Thurman to wear glasses, it’s reasonable to think she’ll turn into someone else. Once, in a “Batman’’ movie, she actually did. She’s bespectacled again for “Motherhood,’’ and it saddens me to report that neither she nor this comedy turns into more than an argument against procreation.
Thurman plays Eliza Welch, the harried sort of woman who doesn’t realize that her stroller just ran you off the sidewalk. You’ve stood behind her at the coffee shop as the cellphone conversation she’s having blasts the entire store. She’s told you off for calling her “ma’am’’ or looked down her nose at you for, say, “just’’ being a roofer. I wish I were kidding when I tell you that Eliza has a blog called the Bjorn Identity (so named for the best-selling yuppie baby sling) and that she pollutes it with thoughts like, “Must a woman’s soul die because she’s a mommy?’’ But I’m not.
Most of the movie involves the day Eliza spends planning for her daughter’s sixth birthday party and her attempt to write a 500-word essay explaining what motherhood means to her. (For Highlights?) She lives on a block in New York’s West Village that a film crew (another one) has taken over. Her car gets towed. The baker misspells her daughter’s name. A bike courier/playwright admires the “poetical’’ view from her apartment. She retrieves the car then drives it to New Jersey in a tearful rage brought on by the frankness of the comments her husband (Anthony Edwards) makes while editing her essay. “What are you trying to say?’’ he asks.
Katherine Dieckmann wrote and directed “Motherhood,’’ and at the risk of incurring her rage: What is she trying to say? She’s made this movie in the spunky, pseudo-funky style of commercials for yogurt and fabric softener (cutely managed chaos, a tagline for every scene, relentless preciousness). Its hours-before-the-party chaos is like a version of “Mrs. Dalloway’’ that should air between a new episode of “Army Wives’’ and the network premiere of “Sorority Wars.’’
The movie intends to satirize the combination of self-righteous entitlement and guilty sense of oppression certain bourgeois women have about motherhood. Every time it looks like Eliza might have a moment of real clarity, Dieckmann manages to present a character slightly more obnoxious just to keep her heroine likable (nice try). Even the young man who calls her a liberal hypocrite is unbearable.
There is one good scene that captures the silliness of parental playground vanity (“Jodie Foster alert!,’’ one mommy blurts out). And Minnie Driver has wisely been cast as Eliza’s pregnant British pal; she twists all her lines so that they sound either dirty or disposable.
You can see the movie wants to comment on all the frustrations of urban motherhood, but it does so only shallowly. How did having children kill Eliza’s “fiercely lyrical’’ fiction career? The movie isn’t that political or reflective. Instead, trendlets are name-checked (“momoirs’’ and mom jeans) and scenarios merely sketched, like how to walk the dog, carry a baby, curse out a driver, and move your car all at the same time. Eliza has no idea her life and the writing it inspires are cliches. Her production of offspring is none of my business. Reproducing her thoughts is another matter. She’d be the ideal test subject for a blog-control pill.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.