Everyone knows the idiom ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ I propose a new version, ‘Don’t judge a movie by its poster.’ For some reason, every time I look at the poster for Katherine Dieckmann’s Motherhood, I can’t help but to roll my eyes in disgust. The poster led me to believe the film would be a pity party for moms. Portions of the film certainly don that party hat, but overall Motherhood is charming and manages to turn the hackneyed concept of the used and abused mother into a fresh and pleasurable film.
Motherhood covers a day in the life of Eliza Welsh (Uma Thurman). She lives in two apartments with her husband Avery (Anthony Edward) and two young children Lucas and Clara. Yes, I said two apartments. The rent is stabilized and when it comes to children, the more space you have the better. Even with the double digs Eliza has a hard time taking care of the family and tending to her blog “The Bjorn Identity,” a website dedicated the woes of mommyhood.
The one thing that’s making this particular day more hectic than others is her daughter’s 6th birthday party. You know how it is when you’re a kid; every birthday requires the utmost attention and most importantly, a party that provides the perfect goodie bag at the end. Not only does Eliza have to take care of her everyday chores including moving the car before the street sweeper rolls through and picking up the groceries, she also stumbles upon a contest asking for wannabe parenting writers to submit a 500-word answer to the question “What Does Motherhood Mean to Me?” The winner gets her own column! The only problem? Her entry must be submitted by midnight.
I walked into Motherhood expecting the bottom of the barrel for no other reason except my disapproval of the film’s poster. Something about it just screams cliché and suggests that if you see this movie, you’re going to be beaten over the head with motherhood disparities until you decide to get a puppy instead of having a kid. Yes, Motherhood beats you senseless with tiresome troubles of having children, but the realism behind them justifies their use.
The film opens with a shot of a list Eliza makes of things she must do during the day. It contains the usual daunting errands, but also reminds her to do what some would consider mindless tasks like getting dressed. For a minute I though she’d be like the forgetful Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates. Nope, she just has a lot on her plate. You really didn’t even need to see her list. Not only does Eliza’s fashion mimic her constantly manic life but so does her face. She’s busy and wants everyone to know it. At times it’s justified, but sometimes you’ll want to jump through the screen, shake her and tell her to take a deep breath. I know Eliza is exhausted, but constantly expressing her fatigue grows old fast.
Don’t worry, growing bored of her frazzled nature won’t leave you bored with the film. Motherhood maintains a steady pace and has a number of hilariously endearing scenarios. At first things like irritable moms in the playground seem cliché, but when you do a double take, you recall situations that help you relate. In one of the film’s most endearing moments Eliza is blocking traffic for a very understandable reason, trying to save her parking spot. What starts as an argument between her and one of the drivers she’s clogged up in her desperation turns into an instance in which a stranger recognizes the fact that she’s just having a rough day. How many times have you jut wanted a perfect stranger to sympathize with your situation? I’ve got one too many to count.
Motherhood has two primary downfalls. The lesser of the two is Thurman. She’s a fine actress, but something about Eliza isn’t quite convincing. I sympathized with her situation more than the character. Her relationship with her husband doesn’t strike a chord either. I guess their lack of chemistry has its reasons, but a moment of reconciliation isn’t as heartwarming as I believe it is intended to be. As always, the kids are adorable and can do no wrong and Minnie Driver is great as Eliza’s sassy friend Sheila who puts Eliza in her place when necessary. It’s too bad more of the film isn’t dedicated to her character.
The movie isn’t for everyone. It relies on the viewer’s willingness to empathize with Eliza’s plight. If you’re like a guy Eliza encounters in the film purporting that motherhood distress is no different than any other childless person’s troubles, Motherhood might not be for you. On the other hand, if you’re a parent yourself or have tremendous respect for moms and dads around the world, Motherhood will provide you with a sweet and charming theatergoing experience.