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Casa De Los Babys

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Casa De Los Babys

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: John Sayles
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: September 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Daryl Hannah, Susan Lynch, Rita Moreno, Bruno Bichir, Angelina Pelaez, Vanessa Martinez, Juan Carlos Vives, Miguel Rodarte, David Hevia

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewmovie review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Nobody doubts that women the world over want babies. Whether the urge is biological or a surrender to social pressure is anybody's guess. Not even the prolific writer-director-editor John Sayles attempts to answer the big question in his fourteenth pic, "Casa de los Babys," filmed for just one million dollars over a period of four weeks in Acapulco, Mexico. "Casa" is the tale of six white women from various areas of the United States who go to an unnamed Latin American country to adopt. Since they are all staying in one hotel and have a common purpose, they share a forced friendship. To one degree or another they're frustrated because of the residency requirement (at least two months), the red tape, the failure to understand Spanish, the culture shock. The pressure of being confined for so long in a place with values different from those up North brings out their neuroses: therein lies the interest in Sayles's film, which is adapted from his own short story of the same name.

Disney assures us that it's a small world after alla concept manifest in that a half dozen women living either hundreds or thousands of miles away from one another in the States are brought together. Still, the six, though all Caucasians, are such a diverse lot that you'd think they came not only from an assortment of foreign countries but from different planets. Sayles milks the theme of clashing mores and folkways by enclosing these folks in the same quarters... Skipper (Daryl Hannah) is a physical person, a new-age type from Colorado who jogs regularly, shuns socializing with the group, and has a sad story to tell of tragic births. Leslie (Lily Taylor) is nominally Jewish, works in a New York publishing firm, is single and wants a little one for reasons of her own. Jennifer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has money, is unable to have a child, is in a shaky marriage and is the most nervous of the group since she's not sure she even wants one. (The actress must herself be on edge given how many people misspell her last name, including the guy who wrote the film's production notes.) Nan (Marcia Gay Harden), the most amusing, is considered a witch by the hotel owner (Rita Moreno) because she complains incessantly and thinks nothing of giving her local lawyer hell for not speeding up the process. Gayle (Mary Steenburgen) is a recovering alcoholic who has put off parenthood until she can shake the habit while Eileen (Susan Lynch), is a product of a close-knit Irish-American family in Boston who therefore knows little about how to act in foreign surroundings.

Not only does Sayles put this stew together to allow us in the audience to catch the humor and pathos from their combined neuroses but he also gives us a flavor of the host country's own culture. Though Sayles allegedly does not offer stereotypes, the local people we meet do conform to our ideas about them. The frightfully poor orphans who sleep on the beach and try to make a few coins by selling junk or stealing purses. The slacker son of the hotel owner who cavorts with his drunken friends and lambasts the "Yanqui imperialists" who infect the world "psychologically, economically and politically." The unemployed man, formerly a construction worker who plays the lottery and tries to pick up some money competing with a host of others giving tours of the town. Sayles mines pathos in one tender scene in which a hotel maid, Asuncion (Vanessa Martinez) talks of the child that she herself had to send away up North and who is undoubtedly having a better life while an uncomprehending American tells of her own sadness and her wish to have a baby in her arms.

One wonders why a poor Latin American country with an excess of unwanted kids would make things so difficult for the Americans, all in better financial shape than the real mothers, to take these newborns off their hands. But that's another issue. What Sayles brings across is consistent with the themes that run through many of his other films...real truths presented without Hollywood gloss as he shows in "Matewan" (a West Virginia miners' strike in the 1920s), "Eight Men Out" (about an actual scandal involving the Chicago White Sox in 1919), and "Lianna" (the story of a lesbian affair). Some may complain that the writer-director is overly naturalistic, punctuating ordinary conversations between people that you might hear in your neighborhood supermarket. This may be true of his "Lone Star," a series of conversations between pairs of people. For the most part "Casa" too is a series of talks, the six women with one another, the women with the locals, the locals themselves expressing their desperation and frustrations. But "Casa de los Babys" is so well acted, the interaction with the Latin Americans so appealing, that compelling drama emerges from what in lesser hand could have been either a dull sociological tract or a glitzy, inauthentic Hollywood soap.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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