say your piece
 
ISSUE NO.154 23 OCT. 2003
 
 
theReel
Sayles Creates Another Unique Location in 'Casa de los Babys'
By Jeremy Mathews
 
   
    Maggie Gyllenhaal plays one of six U.S. women patiently - or not - waiting to adopt South American babies in indie-film god John Sayles's "Casa de los Babys."

“Casa de los Babys”
IFC Films
Written and directed by John Sayles
Produced by Hunt Lowry, Alejandro Springall and Lemore Syvan
Starring Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Rita Moreno, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Susan Lynch and Vanessa Martinez
Opening at the Broadway
Rated R
(out of four)

In a world of films overloaded with story contrivances and false developments, it’s refreshing to see “Casa de los Babys,” which puts its well-written characters in a well-defined setting and simply lets them interact. The film takes place in a South American country where U.S. women stay in a hotel and wait several months to adopt children. It turns out that the characters are interesting enough without over-the-top double crosses and other unnecessary leaps.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t conflict. The maternal hopefuls don’t all exactly love one another, and some of the locals don’t love them.

How are they going to look after babies if they can’t look after themselves, wonders Señora Muñoz (Rita Moreno), a hotel operator in the unnamed country. Her hotel is known as the Casa de los Babys because the U.S. women stay there for help and Muñoz’s legal connections.

The women have to wait in the country while all the proper procedures are followed (or until the women spend enough money, some suspect). The women basically have a three-month-long vacation, interrupted only by the stress of wondering if they’ll receive their babies.

The women come from very different walks of life, but commune together on the beach and at dinner. They usually either talk about their future children or gossip about the women who aren’t there. Each woman has her own reasons for wanting a child, and each has a different level of potential to be a good parent.

The promising young actress Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jennifer, a younger woman who can’t conceive with her husband, but still wants feel the connection of raising a child. Skipper (Daryl Hannah) is a fitness expert hoping to adopt after suffering miscarriages. She often runs on the beach and/or works out while the film listens in on the other women gossip about her. Gayle (Mary Steenburgen) is a recovering alcoholic and wants to regain her life and raise a child.

Susan Lynch plays the one non-American woman, the Irish Eileen.

Lili Taylor creates an interesting character in Leslie, a book editor and single mother with no delusions about the upcoming parental turmoil or a child’s ability to survive, even under bad parenting. She creates a refreshing contrast to the likes of Nan, a bitch with some added dimensions played by Marcia Gay Harden. Nan constantly, and sometimes astutely, criticizes the country’s practices and threatens to bring in her influential husband if things aren’t done quickly and properly.

These women all have dreams of motherhood, but they don’t cause any real trouble between each other, in part because there would be repercussions and in part because they sympathize with each other’s goals. The conversations range from amusing to poignant.

Sometimes the women complain about the wait, but the observant Leslie points out that some women have to actually wait nine months for their babies.

Other times the tenderness and longing come through. The women aren’t competing, but are simply all on the same beach, waiting for children whom they can raise and mold.

One scene features two monologues between Eileen and a Latino housekeeper. Neither can understand each other, but each feels the emotions behind the words.

John Sayles films are always refreshing due to the writer/director/editor’s close attention to character and setting. From the Texas border town of “Lone Star” to the Alaskan wilderness of “Limbo,” Sayles has spent his career creating distinct environments and exploring political situations.

There’s no easy message for the film to deliver because adoption isn’t an easy issue. The film explores the many local residents in order to observe the positive and negative elements of the adopting mothers.

There are locals who think that adoption is another example of U.S. imperialism. A man who is smart enough to learn English from watching subtitled films can’t find a job and dreams of the United States in ways the country’s own citizens take for granted. Poor, illiterate children on the street would probably love to have a home with one of the women and an education. And then there are two young women, one 15-year-old looking ahead to, another slightly older one looking back at, giving their children up for adoption. It might be a better life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t miss them.

The film refuses to defend or vilify the waiting women. It culminates in little more than a contemplative moment for most of its characters, but that’s all Sayles needs to do. He has shown a very complicated situation, and without any distracting or unlikely plot developments, it’s up to the audience to think about it.
jeremy@red-mag.com

 
     
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