How many movies have you seen that have portrayed the role of motherhood? Many, I'm sure you're thinking. That's what I thought myself, when I was asked that question earlier this week. But then I wondered, in how many of them was the character of Mother a developed character? There are a lot of characters named Mom, but they are usually on the periphery of some other main story. Surely there are characters more central to the plot who play more than a superficial representation of the female parent.
Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts in Stepmom played two different mother roles – the birth mother and the stepmother. I happen to love both actresses and this was a must-see for me. But again, although both roles explored some of the challenges mothers face, it was really within the larger context of exploring how two unalike strangers and women deal with being thrust together and having to adapt and define new boundaries and learn to trust each other.
The Family Stone is a more recent favorite of mine, and Diane Keaton does a tremendous job playing the matriarch, her role made even more poignant because she must reflect on motherhood as she comes to terms with her own mortality. Sally Field in Steel Magnolias explores the maternal instincts a grandmother must struggle to suppress in order to support her daughter's need to define her own boundaries as a parent. These are complex and challenging roles, and yet as important as each is to the movie, they are only a part of telling another bigger story about family and friendship.
Writer/director Katherine Dieckmann has set out to change that with Motherhood – a story about a career woman turned stay-at-home mom, reflecting on what her daily life has become. Loosely based on the director's own experience living in a rent-stabilized walk-up apartment in New York's Greenwich Village, the story captures a day in the life of Eliza (Uma Thurman) a former fiction writer, turned SAHM and blogger.
Blogging has become her sole creative outlet, and in-real-life she is supported by her best friend Sheila (played by a very pregnant Minnie Driver), and her well-meaning but distracted husband (Anthony Edwards) who is largely oblivious to Eliza's struggle to understand and redefine her identity.
Supported by an all-female team of producers, Dieckmann tries to shine a light on motherhood from an entirely new angle – one that captures the humor and complexity in the life of a mother. From all accounts it is entertaining and amusing, but will audiences turn out to see it?
Aside from banking on the draw of its big name stars, there has been a huge outreach to the obvious target audience of mothers using social media. Real-life Mom-bloggers have been approached to attend press junkets and creatively spread the word to their legions of readers. A daily presence on Twitter, @MotherhoodFilm has been actively searching out Mom Blogs and stimulating debate and introspection on all aspects of motherhood from those with firsthand knowledge.
Interestingly, their Facebook presence appears to be inaccessible outside the USA. This could be a well-intentioned attempt to screen their Facebook fans for their promo giveaways. Of course this could be done simply with a giveaway terms and conditions notice on the fan page. In effect though, it does mean that many non-Twitter-moms are excluded from some major buzz-building opportunities.
The fact is that mothers everywhere are likely to relate to Eliza, and not just because she is played by the very versatile Uma Thurman. Most mothers can relate to and empathize with the mom whose children choose just the very public moment you want them to behave, to act out or somehow embarrass them. Just ask the Heene family and Falcon the “balloon boy”. And who hasn't had to deal with the playground confrontation, or experienced meltdown day?
This film is certain to resonate not just with mothers but also women in general interested in the maternal condition. There is also a subset of fathers who will venture to see this of their own accord, or accompanying their wives. It remains to see how much of a draw there will be to those outside of these groups, and I would not be surprised if curious observers find that they connect more with the movie than they expect to. Regardless of the turnout, this is an important film to have made it this far, and is sure to become a family classic.
Motherhood opens Friday October 23rd, 2009.