Motherhood didn’t quite work out for Uma Thurman when she was Quentin Tarantino’s yellow-suited Bride in “Kill Bill.” But in writer-director Katherine Dieckmann’s latest low-budget undertaking, Thurman finally gets a shot at The Bride’s fiercest unfulfilled dream: to give birth to and raise a child of her own.
Her character is Eliza, a West Village misfit and ex-writer-turned-mommy trying to maintain a marriage, two children, and some semblance of creative vitality—not to mention sanity—amidst the chaos that is the existence of a stay-at-home mom. The film follows Eliza through an exceptionally tumultuous day of blogging, blacktops, and birthday preparations.
Thurman’s Eliza is immediately compelling because she seems to lack the trappings of most stay-at-home movie moms. She’s not utterly selfless or wise, nor does she worship her children or possess a burning desire to appear perfect to the outside world. In between dropping her children off at school and uploading her musings to her blog, “The Bjorn Identity,” she grapples with her workaholic husband (Anthony Edwards) and her pregnant, sex-deprived best friend (Minnie Driver). She may be grouchy and stretched thin, but she is stubborn and passionate, and she can pull off long, old-maid dresses better than anyone except perhaps a pregnant Heidi Klum. Dieckmann is wise to lend the character both autonomous ambitions and myriad whims; Eliza comes to represent every mother who has dreamt of driving right past the exit on the way home—except she’s bolder because she actually does it.
Unfortunately, most of what feels genuine and true about Thurman’s character is lacking in the film’s narrative. Eliza’s day begins ordinarily enough as she buys groceries and party decorations for her daughter’s sixth birthday party, later deciding to enter a writing contest in which she must describe the essence of motherhood in 500 words or less. As the day wears on, however, it feels as though Dieckmann piles a whole life’s worth of unfortunate events into the few hours she has. Soon enough Eliza has had a minor breakdown, a confusing interaction with a sexy younger delivery boy, and an enormous fight with her best friend. She has also saved her child’s life over the phone. The situational humor in all this tends to fall flat, and the bleak accumulation of incident after incident comes close to reducing this movie to cautionary tale—the cinematic equivalent of birth control.
When viewed as an ode to New York, however, the film takes on new and energetic light. Hipster bakeries, loudmouthed pedestrians giving anyone and everyone a piece of their mind, alternate side parking, cramped rent-stabilized apartments, class envy and entitlement, annoying tourists—the movie spares no detail in its panoramic coverage of the busiest city in the world. The film’s New York setting enhances the tumult of Eliza’s many mishaps, and provides moments of unexpected fun—most notably Jodie Foster’s hilarious cameo as a fellow mom navigating the dangerous world of urban playground politics.
Motherhood certainly agrees with Thurman, who is mom to two kids by ex-husband Ethan Hawke. At the cusp of 40, she looks radiant even with disheveled brown hair and non-sexy librarian glasses. The action hero goddess is virtually unrecognizable, but there’s something strangely appealing about how dysfunctional the 6-foot-tall Thurman looks running around in her tattered aprons and dorky Birkenstocks. Motherhood for Eliza is ultimately about accepting limitations on her time and energy, and learning slowly that children are what motivate her to live a passionate life. Thurman fully embraces the many facets of her character, taking on her struggles with wit, strength, and enthusiasm. Eliza may not wield the hefty sword of the Bride, but in Dieckmann’s vision she is just as brave.