October 23, 2009
On the Big Board
||I think I would have liked this much more if it hadn't felt like an essay.
It isn't something a lot of people like to discuss openly, but by and large the career path for women in Hollywood differs somewhat from that of men. This is particularly true if you're the type of actress who is initially cast with an eye toward your physical beauty or your appeal as an action heroine. While men tend to be accepted in these roles well into mid life and beyond, for most women the types of roles available to them begin to change dramatically as they age. Most serious actors try to diversify their body of work for a variety of reasons, whether it be to challenge themselves, or to avoid typecasting. But for women, and some women more than others, this is especially critical as sooner or later the number of matriarchal roles you are offered will begin to outnumber the others.
Uma Thurman, whose career does already contain a number of diverse roles, would seem to have reached this juncture of her career as she appears in her latest completed project, Motherhood. But the timing of her participation is certainly more significant than just that; the genesis of Motherhood is as a labor of love between director Katherine Diekmann and a quartet of female producers, all intent upon presenting a day in the life of a working mother from a strictly "female-centric" point of view. But if you're expecting a grim feminist anthem along the lines of An Unmarried Woman, don't. Motherhood is intended as part comedy and part revelation, using humor as a tool to shatter the media-induced myths surrounding what it really means to be a mother who must find balance between her roles as a caregiver and breadwinner.
It seems a tall order for such a short movie, particularly one meant to be a comedy. One could be forgiven for imagining Motherhood as a cross between Ally McBeal: The Married Years and 24, chronicling the exploits of a harried urban mother consuming her last vestiges of youth and beauty while struggling to avert disaster by making it from one end of Manhattan to the other before sundown. Yet in a way, that's precisely what it is!
Thurman plays Eliza Welsh, a West Villiage mom languishing in a career trough. Having given up her life as a professional writer in part to spend more time with her two young children, Eliza finds she still has a passion for the written word. So on her own time, she chronicles her day to day experiences in an online "mommy blog". Her struggles caring for her children largely without assistance from her husband (Anthony Edwards) make the cut, as do the intimate details of her friendship with gal pal Sheila (Minnie Driver). It seems a workable if not entirely efficient arrangement; Eliza's aspirations as a writer remain somewhat on the back burner but she indulges herself with her blog and most important has the opportunity to be there for her children.
But one morning Eliza becomes aware of a competition offering a position as a paid blogger for the best essay submission regarding the importance of being a mother. For an experienced "mommy blogger" and passionately creative person like Eliza, this would seem to be manna from heaven - but there's a catch. The essay must be submitted by the end of the day, which also happens to be her daughter's birthday! All Eliza must do is successfully plan, provision for and carry out her child's party and complete an award worthy essay by the end of a day where nothing seems fated to go her way. Will she succeed? Will her husband understand? Will Sheila help her or get in the way? I'd say that at just a shade under 90 minutes it certainly shouldn't take long to find out.
The premise is intriguing, although the assumption is that a film like this will appeal primarily to women. All three principals – Thurman, Edwards and Driver – have proven themselves to have ample range for the material, although this is director Katherine Dieckmann's first feature length assignment. The clips I have seen do have potential but for such a brief film to have such complex aspirations, the challenge to connect with audiences will be formidable. Motherhood received a lukewarm reception at the Sundance Festival earlier this year, and early reviews have been mixed. But as an independent film with a modest budget, likable leads and an admittedly novel approach, there may be a niche for it. After all, the more films that are made about women, by women, the less women in Hollywood will have to rely on the traditional Hollywood template for the roles that are available to them as their careers mature. And that's something that's good for everyone. (Bruce Hall/BOP)