Thursday, October 22, 2009

Katherine Dieckmann & Uma Thurman explore MOTHERHOOD

For those who live in or know well this city, the very first shot of MOTHERHOOD, the new film from writer/
director Katherine Dieckmann (shown below, right) estab-
lishes where we are (New York). The second tells us in which part of that city (Greenwich Village), while the third is even more specific: We're in the apartment of a young family. This is movie-making of splendid economy and simplicity. The moment a few shots later -- in which the film's star Uma Thurman haltingly samples yesterday's left-over coffee and finds it bearable -- delights by giving us information quickly and stylishly. So simultaneously sleepy, joyous, funny and truthful is the entire opening section that I think it will ring bells for young urban mothers (and, one hopes, for appreciative fathers) of every stripe, everywhere.

Taking place over a single day in the life of mom (a luminously over-taxed Thurman, below, left), dad (a quiet and fine Anthony Edwards (below, right), two-year-old son (David and Matthew Shallipp), about-to-turn-six daughter (Daisy Tahan) and the family dog, the movie mostly tracks the moment-to-moment experiences of this harried writer (who has her own blog about "motherhood") as she tries to do everything necessary to get through this day -- the center of which will be her daughter's birthday party. Various set pieces are scattered throughout the film, the best of which combines dog poop with alternate-side parking, a roofer and a son who likes to climb. Later we discover (new to me, at least) a novel, though expensive, way to find a parking space.

In one marvelous touch, Dieckmann manages something supremely ironic and self-referential by having a movie shoot taking place on the block where the couple lives, creating further havoc in an already crazy day. We meet some of the family's friends and neighbors (a smart Minnie Driver, below, left, and the always-a-treat Alice Dummond among them), watch (with some trepidation) an encounter between mom and a handsome East Indian delivery boy (a sloe-eyed Arjun Gupta shown at bottom right), and rise to an almost-climax involving a set of edits from dad regarding mom's latest piece of writing. As the movie goes along, even as it builds, it begins to lose steam -- which is odd because so much of it -- and everyone in it -- is so good.

One of the reasons for this may be that a particular sense of entitlement, of discernible class distinctions, hangs over the film. This is apparent first in the early scene between Thurman and her brood and a wealthy French neighbor and daughter who live across the street. Then it surfaces soon after when Thurman imagines that she can't (but in reality actually won't) clean up after her dog; later it appears again, regarding cell phone use, among the people standing on line at a retail shop. Thurman's character is alternately in the right and in the wrong on these matters, and it is to Dieck-
mann's great credit that she allows the character the reality of being human, rather than a too-simple heroine. But perhaps be-
cause the filmmaker sees her film as a comedy -- rather than sim-
ply as a full-bodied "story" full of comedy, drama and whatever -- these more serious concerns, which are important in their way, are somehow not given their full due. The filmmaker also allows her movie to have a feel-good and too-pat happy ending that is ever so slightly undeserved, making the movie seem -- unfairly, I realize -- a too-easy look at a situation that's as difficult as it is rewarding.

Dieckman's previous films -- A Good Baby and especially Diggers -- also offered a strong sense of reality but without resorting to "feel-goodery," so perhaps the temptation here was too strong to resist. In the press notes, the filmmaker explains that she based the movie on her own experiences raising a family in a walk-up apartment in NYC's west Village. After a day like the one shown here, who wouldn't want to end it happily? Definitely worth seeing, Motherhood offers a number of wonderful individual scenes, a fine central performance from Ms Thurman and very nice work from a well-chosen supporting cast.

Via freestyle releasing, the movie opens Friday, October 23, in multiple locations all over the New York City and Los Angeles areas. Further cities/theaters will follow soon. Click here and enter your zip code to locate a theater near you.

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