Mother Courage

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Running time 90 minutes
Written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann
Starring Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver

Many films have been made about the perils of parenthood, but none with a more attractive and entertaining mom on the verge of a nervous breakdown than Uma Thurman in Motherhood. Except, of course, the frazzled and terminally adorable Diane Keaton in the unforgettable Baby Boom, but Ms. Thurman has her charms, too, as Eliza Welsh, a once-promising writer who has sacrificed her own career to raise two children, with a distracted husband (Anthony Edwards) who isn’t much help at home and doesn’t bring in much money as a minor editor who collects rare books retrieved from garbage cans. They live in the insufferable clutter of two adjoining rent-controlled walk-ups on a street in Greenwich Village so quaint that the traffic is always blocked on both sides by movie companies filming Hollywood comedies in the neighborhood. If only Eliza’s life were half as glamorous. But she’s a different anomaly than Julia Roberts. Motherhood is about one exhausting day in her life that will make any sane man or woman—married, single or gay—stock up on birth control pills and pray.

Imperfect, unsexy, bespectacled Uma is a far cry from the Kill Bills, but there is no better proof of an actor’s skill than a role that requires her to do several things at once. She’s a multitasking mother-machine, all right, and watching her painfully survive never-ending stress made me want to kill myself. Between chores—climbing three flights of stairs 20 times a day, throwing a birthday party for her 6-year-old daughter, running the vacuum, laundering piles of dirty underwear, reading myriad books by nutty child psychologists, lugging a kid in one arm and an incontinent dog in the other while trying to move her car to the opposite side of the street for alternate-street-cleaning parking, and making lists, lists, lists—she also sharpens her writing skills in a daily blog. Ms. Thurman does a nice job of building frustration and aggression simultaneously—which, in her case, means smoking and yelling. But consummate overachievers never rest, so in her spare moments (huh?) Eliza enters a magazine contest to catalog her thoughts about “What Motherhood Means to Me”—in 500 words or less! Oh, yes. The deadline is midnight.

The worst pitfall of all this responsibility is that nobody seems to care at all. They all take Eliza for granted, and she ends up so desperate for affection that when she finally gets a chance to soak in a hot tub, all she can think of is the confession by her ditzy, pregnant best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver) that she used her child’s motorized bathtub toy for a dildo. Forced to do all the shopping on her bike because the car has been towed to make room for yet another movie-location shoot, loaded with handfuls of party supplies, including a birthday cake on which the bakery has misspelled her daughter’s name, she accepts a friendly offer from a handsome delivery boy to drag the shopping bags up the stairs, and invites him in. Not for romance (although you kind of hope things will kick up a notch), but just to see if she can still dance. Sometimes you just wish Eliza could send her eccentric, disorganized husband and her two yapping, skirt-yanking kids to camp and go to bed with a copy of How to Be Your Own Best Friend.

Nothing ever happens the way you think it will. This is simply a film about how underappreciated motherhood is. Women are so challenged and overextended that they are no longer even aware of their own priorities. There are rewards, too, if you have enough strength, brain cells and muscle tone left over at the end of the day to enjoy them. But according to this movie, amusingly written and directed with savvy by Katherine Dieckmann, motherhood presents massive potential for mental and physical collapse and keeps both psychiatrists and chiropractors in business. Regardless, Motherhood is Uma Thurman’s movie all the way. She’s in every scene, and she makes each one of them count.