Casa de los Babys
4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Casa de los Babys Writer-director John Sayles steps back a bit for a less plot-driven ensemble drama about six women who travel to Mexico to adopt babies. Astute character studies are the point here, rather than a neat and tidy story. All of these women have tried for years to have children, and they're now forced to reside in Mexico to establish some sort of residency to qualify for adoption. But it's more like a purgatory, waiting in limbo while the machinery of Latin bureaucracy slowly clicks away ... and the resort owner (Moreno) and her lawyer brother (Armendariz) get rich! Jennifer (Gyllenhaal) is a young wife in a troubled marriage; the fitness-obsessed Skipper (Hannah) is at the end of a long, dark road to motherhood; the spoiled and vicious Nan (Harden) will do anything to get a child; from Ireland, Eileen (Lynch) has an elaborate dream she longs to realise; Gayle (Steenburgen) is struggling with her internal demons; and the cynical New Yorker Leslie (Taylor) keeps everyone on their toes with her biting wit and frighteningly matter-of-fact worldview.

Sayles directs this with an almost aloof style that simply lets the characters do the talking, while the sunny cinematography expertly captures the images and moods of Latin America. As these desperate and hopeful women interact with each other, trying to figure out who's really deserving of being a mother, we also get to know some of the locals, including a maid (Martinez) with a past, a pregnant girl (Higareda) trapped by her culture's religion and machismo, a group of street kids and the odd family dynamic of the resort owners. The characters are all deeply engaging and beautifully played. Lynch is the standout, with the film's most touching scene, which will probably become a standard actor audition monologue. And Harden also shines as the film's most unsympathetic character. There are startlingly strong statements here--sexism, imperialism, fertility, immigration, abortion, poverty--without ever being heavy handed about it. This isn't a film about drawing conclusions; it's about fairly addressing all sides of the issues and getting into the shoes of each person. Sometimes this feels overwhelmingly talky and girly, and slightly too comprehensive, but the film is made with such a light touch that it really gets under our skin ... and helps us fully understand.

cert 12tbc adult themes, language 24.Oct.03 lff

dir-scr John Sayles
with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Susan Lynch, Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Rita Moreno, Vanessa Martinez, Martha Higareda, Guillermo Ivan, Hector Mujica, Pedro Armendariz Jr
release US 19.Sep.03; UK Oct.03 lff
03/Mexico 1h35

Breakfast al fresco: Gyllenhaal and Harden.

hannah lynch taylor
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall