Motherhood can be an experience that’s both rewarding and frustrating; “Motherhood,” the movie, is merely the latter.
Spanning one frantic day in the life of a Manhattan mom, “Motherhood” winds up being a paean to first-world dilemmas like misspelled birthday cakes, film crews taking all the parking spaces and not being able to find enough “me time” for artistic fulfillment.
Eliza (Uma Thurman) upbraids her fancy-pants, French-diplomat’s-wife neighbor for suggesting that Eliza is “heroic” for bringing up her kids in a West Village walk-up, but the movie spends the remainder of its running time pinning medals on Eliza for parenting under circumstances that are the stuff of many American women’s fantasies.
Her loving husband Avery (Anthony Edwards) is the family’s sole breadwinner — but he’s managed to find a job that allows him flexible hours so that he can come home during the day to help Eliza tend to their kids — and the family of four has two adjoining apartments, allowing them a king-sized amount of living space for New York City. It’s not that a movie couldn’t make us care about Eliza’s life or relate to her predicaments, no matter what her socio-economic status, but “Motherhood” is so determined to canonize this woman for her supreme sacrifice that the end result feels like extremely insulated and self-important.
The plot has Eliza spinning several plates — she’s preparing for her daughter’s sixth birthday party that afternoon, but she also has until midnight to write 500 words about her life as a mother; the essay is for a contest, the winner of which gets a columnist job at a parenting magazine. We learn that Eliza put her undergraduate promise as a fiction-writer behind her when she had children; in the meantime, she’s tried to keep her foot in the writing game with a blog called “The Bjorn Identity.”
Unfortunately, we get to read what Eliza writes for her blog and as her contest entry, and it, like “Motherhood” itself, feels like a stale collection of harried-parent material that the bland comedy duo The Mommies milked dry more than a decade ago.
And while Thurman does her all to make Eliza sympathetic and harried — even though a pair of glasses and a dark dye job fail to dim her innate Uma Thurman–ness — the character ultimately comes off like an untrustworthy whiner. She reveals an intimate secret from her best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver, the best thing in the movie) in an inane blog entry, she flips out and briefly runs away from home on the day of her daughter’s party because she doesn’t like the editorial feedback her husband gave her on the column — despite the fact that she specifically asked him for it — and, heck, she doesn’t even bother to curb her dog. Even the working mothers I spoke with after the press screening found both the character and the film to be odious.
A scene in which Eliza rocks out to an old Pylon CD confirms that Gen-Xers have become as awful as Baby Boomers, if not worse, in the “I’ve got kids, but I’m still cool, man” sweepstakes. Mothers of all ages should be spared “Motherhood”; if you want to do something nice for a mom in your life, offer to baby-sit while she goes to see any other movie than this one.
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