While entitled "Motherhood," this picture doesn't set aside much time to explore the colorful rituals of child rearing. It's a much more self-involved drag, observing characters one would never tolerate in real life, funneled into a faulty empowerment lecture that ends up an insufferable dramatic spin-out. There's nothing much here on the wonders of parental obligation to reinforce the mood, only ineffective flecks of comedy and abrasively broad performances to help sell an unwelcome foray into me-me-me individuality.
Long ago, Eliza Welsh (Uma Thurman) gave up her promising writing aspirations to become a parent to two children, with husband Avery (Anthony Edwards) maintaining a job that leaves the child rearing to the harried mommy. Attempting to juggle the daily struggles of parenthood with her efforts to maintain a motherhood blog, Eliza finds her patience wearing thin, with the promise of a magazine writing gig helping to boost her spirits on the day of her daughter's sixth birthday. Tearing around New York City to run errands, dish with best pal Shelia (Minnie Driver), and prepare for a party, Eliza finds every simple task thwarted by oppressive city life and her own encroaching depression.
It's easy to sniff out what writer/director Katherine Dieckmann is attempting with "Motherhood," but the ingredients are either stale or surprisingly rotten. Attempting to decode the fantasy of parenthood, Dieckmann is looking to explore the woman underneath the stained nightshirt, offering Eliza as a creative soul locked inside of a baby prison, desperate to sustain her voice while the demands of the day reduce her to an unshowered heap of neuroses. The idea of "Motherhood" is fascinating, but the execution turns bleak psychological spaces into a sunny sitcom for mass consumption, making Eliza seem less like a troubled mommy fighting to retain her sense of self and more like a selfish goblin who would gladly sell her kids for a byline and pack of KOOLs.
The kids are secondary to Dieckmann, who impressed me tremendously with her sensitive handling of coarse domestic issues in the fine 2007 drama, "Diggers." "Motherhood" is strictly about Eliza and her daytime anxiety, not about the needs of children; the tykes are merely ornaments to the episodic nature of the screenwriting, which submits a series of problems 97% of viewers might find themselves having trouble relating to (watch Eliza deal with a film shoot in her neighborhood, struggle with street parking, and concern herself with 9/11 worry). Dieckmann shoots for a sense of location in New York City, but she stumbles over her clichés, with typical Big Apple madness substituting for unique pressure cooker characterizations to help Eliza freak out in interesting ways.
"Motherhood" hopes to glaze the woe with college rock hits, defining Eliza's precious Sarah Lawrence maturation and aborted plans for world domination. While the character's ache for expression is felt, Eliza is made up entirely of hard edges and irrational behavior, which Thurman wildly overplays as some sort of bespectacled dementia. I enjoy Thurman as an actress, but she needs specific material to shine. "Motherhood" doesn't offer the proper support, inflating the character's fallibility to absurd proportions, which has Eliza inviting a hunky delivery boy into her apartment to flirt with and help dance her frustrations away (a cringe-inducing scene), and revealing Shelia's masturbation practices on her blog. Instead of creating a palpable void of perspective in the face of blinding parental torment, Dieckmann turns Eliza into a jerk, which makes "Motherhood" impossible to endure at times. The filmmaker mangles her feminist ideas further by making Avery a one-note nimrod of a husband, proficient in convenient absenteeism and overall parental irresponsibility. The male characterizations are a joke and only serve to strengthen Eliza's facepalm sense of mommy persecution.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation on the "Motherhood" DVD sustains the soft lighting and gentle colors of the cinematography with no discernable digital hiccups. Skintones are appealing, with solid detail offered for sweaty features and agitated reactions. Outdoor photography evokes cruelly compacted NYC ambiance, with a pleasing blend of concrete jungle and parental business. Black levels are consistently restrained throughout.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix gets the most mileage out of the bustling soundtrack, which crowbars multiple songs into the film, often harshly. The tunes sound thin, but they do bring a certain dimensionality to the DVD the rest of mix avoids. City and apartment atmospherics are here in small doses, while the rest of the listening event is primarily frontal. Dialogue is crisp and always pronounced. A 2.0 track is also available.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary from writer/director Katherine Dieckmann and producer Rachel Cohen keeps quiet and remains informative if you happen to be a fan of the film. I have to note, Dieckmann comes across slightly arrogant and comments on character motivation as a screenwriter, not as a viewer, going on about screen details that just aren't there. The duo sustains the conversation the entire track, with Dieckmann spending plenty of time conveying her personal connection to the material. Cohen is there to acknowledge the filmmaker and add her own thoughts when prompted.
"Interviews" (15:30) sits down with Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver, and Katherine Dieckmann to discuss creative choices, inspirations, family insight, and life on the "Motherhood" set.
A Theatrical Trailer is included.
"Motherhood" is a frustrating motion picture. It's difficult to sit and watch a film dig up compelling ideas of identity and relatable bouts of creative doubt, only to see everything washed away by a trivial screenplay that doesn't respect the emotional turmoil at hand. Motherhood is a complex event worthy of an honest, illuminating cinematic exploration. "Motherhood" binds together formula and wrongheaded characterization, making the art of rising children look like the most unappealing adventure around.
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