Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2010)
What the heck happened to Uma Thurman’s career? Not that long ago, she looked like she’d become a major movie star. However, since her peak in the mid-late 1990s, she’s not done a lot of note. This has been more obvious since the Kill Bill flicks of 2003/2004.
Now we find Thurman in 2009’s Motherhood, a movie with such a low theatrical profile that it might as well have been direct-to-video. Motherhood played on no more than 48 screens and didn’t even make the $100,000 mark!
I’ve always liked Thurman, so I hope her fortunes improve in the future. Because of my established affection for her, I figured I’d give Motherhood a look. The film follows the day in the life of a harried mother. Eliza Welch (Thurman) is a stay-at-home mom who uses a motherhood-related blog to express her creative side. Husband Avery (Anthony Edwards) earns just enough to sustain their rent-controlled apartments in New York’s West Village and family needs, but he seems lost in his own world and doesn’t contribute much to household activities.
On this particular day, Eliza confronts two challenges. For one, her daughter Clara’s (Daisy Tahan) sixth birthday party will take place that night, so she needs to get all those ducks in a row. In addition, Eliza finds a contest to earn a gig as a columnist in a parenting magazine, but she needs to write 500 words about what motherhood means to her by midnight.
Back when I was a kid – which wasn’t that long ago – it seemed like mothers did their jobs without trumpeting their accomplishments. Over the last few decades, the “Mommy Cult” has become predominant, and boy, are these women eager to tell you how much/everything they do for their kids!
To some degree, Motherhood mocks the obsessive mothers, but it more frequently embraces them. The first scene clearly indicates which way the movie will go. We see all the work Eliza must do while her spacey husband sits around and relaxes.
This sets up the film’s “Martyr Mother” viewpoint right from the start, and it rarely lets go. Yes, it does allow Avery to become more three-dimensional late in the movie, but that feels like a grudging concession on the part of the filmmakers. They really prefer to stick with the concept that mothers run the world and everyone else is superfluous.
That idea would be annoying enough, but the film’s smug attitude makes it even more obnoxious. Perhaps if the movie took place someplace other than the West Village, it might come across as more universal. However, it feels like a Woody Allen take on motherhood; like most of the Woodman’s flicks, Motherhood limits itself to a kind of upper middle class worldview that won’t connect especially well elsewhere.
Yes, the filmmakers try to give Eliza and Avery more of an “Average Joe” feel. We learn that they can afford their two apartments due to rent control, and we hear about some financial troubles. Sorry, but I don’t think they deserve a telethon anytime soon. If they can afford to raise two kids in two Manhattan apartments on one salary, then they don’t merit a whole lot of sympathy.
Especially since Eliza comes across as such a self-absorbed character. Everyone around her is supposed to seem annoying so we can see Eliza’s challenges. However, she irritates as much – if not more – than they do. Eliza seems unable to take anything in stride, and she freaks out about many little things, all while she blames everyone else.
So that’s another strike against the movie. With a more sympathetic lead character, it might’ve evoked a better response, but since the main participant seems like a whiner, we don’t invest a lot in the tale.
It doesn’t help that Motherhood eventually abandons its depiction of mundane day-to-day challenges. This first occurs when Eliza has a near-fling with a hunky – and intellectual, of course – messenger. Eliza then enters formal mental breakdown mode.
At that point, the flick totally leaves the realm of reality. The combination of these two extremes ensures that we no longer can connect to the original theme, and the plot twists don’t add anything. They just make Eliza look flakier, and that’s a gamble the movie can’t afford to take.
As much as I’ve always liked Thurman, she can’t help here. Unfortunately, I’m more inclined to see her as a detriment to the film. Thurman tends to stay in broad comedy mode most of the time, so her line readings and gestures annoy more than anything else. Granted, I don’t think a good performance could’ve saved the flick, but Thurman does nothing to enhance it.
And that’s too bad, as I think there’s a kernel of an interesting movie to be found here. Motherhood tries too much to play up all the struggles of mothers while it also engages in smug condescension and silly plot twists. None of these components work, and when packaged together, they really flop.