Film Review: Motherhood

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PARK CITY -- After seeing too many edgy, impenetrable, ambitious Sundance movies aiming -- and failing -- to set the world on fire, it can be something of a relief to find a frothy, mainstream comedy that actually delivers some entertainment value. "Motherhood," written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann, is neither earth-shaking nor profound, but it has considerable charm, thanks to an appealing cast and some sharply witty observations about the pressures of child-rearing in Manhattan. It will please audiences who can relate to the tiny, everyday problems that the main character endures.

The film takes place over the course of a single day, as Eliza (Uma Thurman) looks after her two young children while struggling to hang on to her own identity as an aspiring writer. Her husband (Anthony Edwards) is preoccupied with his own less-than-stellar career, and her pregnant best friend (Minnie Driver) also needs her attention and advice.

The film has little new to say about the pressures of trying to juggle personal ambition and familial needs, but what makes this outing worthwhile are the vivid details of trying to fight these battles in New York in 2009. Eliza encounters plenty of other frazzled moms on the playground where some people come to spot celebrities. (Jodie Foster has a hilarious cameo as another mom being stalked by paparazzi.) All of the vignettes concerning rude neighbors, cramped apartments and parking nightmares are so well caught that we feel ourselves immersed in Eliza's maddening routines.

Dieckmann seems aware that Eliza can seem a bit self-indulgent in her carping. An older neighbor comments at one point that women of an earlier generation dealt with the same pressures but never dreamt of complaining, and her remark seems apt. But Thurman brings a lot of grace and conviction to her portrayal, and Edwards makes an engaging foil. The movie's highlight is a scene with a minor character: an Indian messenger (played by charismatic newcomer Arjun Gupta) who strikes some sexual sparks with the bedraggled Eliza. His frenzied dance with Thurman is almost as memorable as her famous dance scene with John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction."

Dieckmann made an underrated film about a group of male pals, "Diggers," a couple of years ago. This new film confirms her talent, but one suspects she might become an even better filmmaker if she ventures a little farther from her own personal concerns. "Motherhood" benefits from the fine cinematography by Nancy Schreiber and the tight editing of Michael R. Miller.

Production: Killer Films, John Wells Prods.
Cast: Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver, Daisy Tahan, Alice Drummond, Arjun Gupta, Clea Lewis
Director-screenwriter: Katherine Dieckmann
Producers: Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon
Executive producer: John Wells
Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber
Production designer: Debbie De Villa
Music: Joe Henry
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Editor: Michael R. Miller
Sales agent: Endeavor
No rating, 90 minutes