Casa De Los Babys Movie Review

In a fit of Altman-envy, auteur filmmaker John Sayles has delivered a picture that has a situation instead of a plot and brought together a bevy of top actresses to act it out within a seemingly loose framework. But the lack of a plot doesn't mean it doesn't have a structure, and the one here is engineered to convey the range of needs and problems connected with first-world women adopting third-world babies.

Six women from the U.S. with different life experiences and unique values are brought together in their quests to adopt a baby in an unstated South American country (though shot in and around Acapulco, Mexico). The problem they all face is the bureaucracy that's in charge of the process -- one that feels uncomfortably arbitrary, subject to more whim than substance.

As the women wait, eat, shop, sunbathe, and wait some more until a baby is granted to them, they come together in a variety of combinations, illustrating social dynamics within a group. There's all the bitching, pleading, gossiping, and down-putting one would expect from such a disparate but similar congregation, and Sayles' device is to give each woman their screen time to reveal individual stories.

Skipper (Daryl Hannah), a fitness freak, spends most of her time working out in order to distract herself from a private pain and an inner sadness that threatens to overwhelm her. Leslie (Lily Taylor), a single and cynical 30-something New Yorker, could have a child but wants to avoid the congress with a man that would entail. Jennifer (Maggie Gyllenhaal), at 24 the youngest of the collection and probably the best off financially, is hoping an adopted baby will restore the self-confidence she lost when all the medical procedures money could buy proved fruitless.

Nan (Marcia Gay Harden) is the controlling one with the biggest chip on her shoulder, but being loud and obnoxious proves advantageous in the alien circumstances. Gayle (Mary Steenburgen) is a born-again Christian and recovering alcoholic who has finally arrived at a point in her life when she feels able to cope with the responsibility of motherhood. Finally, Eileen (Irish Susan Lynch, from Sayles' The Secret of Roan Inish) is here to satisfy a passionate desire for a baby. Her scene with the Spanish-speaking chambermaid Asunción (Vanessa Martinez) is an emotional highpoint and showcase moment where two women who can't understand the other's language share their respective thoughts about the meaning of motherhood.

In addition to these stories, you get a glimpse of street life among the young boys who depend on their wits and a little opportunistic thievery for survival. These are the ones for whom adoption was never an option. The adoption infrastructure is revealed as well, in the form of Señora Muñoz (Rita Moreno), who runs the hotel recommended to the waiting women by the adoption lawyer, her brother.

It's all a touching examination of what adoption means on both sides of the supply-demand equation especially as it expresses itself in a foreign culture. It also suggests a certain mystery of adoption, an act that produces a sudden change of lifestyle and destiny.

It's worthy subject matter and offers a splendid setting with a bright and fine cast, but one is starved for the oxygen of drama. So, John, how about a little less of the Altman indulgence and more tension and high-stakes next time with maybe a tight, suspenseful plot? Sunshine State? Men with Guns? We know you know the drill.

Sayles offers a commentary track on the DVD, which is backed up by a handful of making-of featurettes.

Casa de los hotties.


Casa De Los Babys Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2003


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