You know if it’s a John Sayles film, it’s going to be racially and socially conscious.
The subject matter of Sayles’ latest is immediately obvious from the title: The misnomer for babies (bebés in Spanish), hints at the over-the-top abuse of all that’s Hispanic in the script.
In Casa de los Babys, Sayles writes, directs and edits a flick that tackles a very worthwhile and often unspoken subject: the dark and economic side of motherhood. Six talented actors — Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Susan Lynch, Mary Steenburgen and Lili Taylor — portray women who’ve gone to South America to adopt local babies. They stay in a lush resort area where impoverished natives can’t afford to raise their own children and unwanted little boys roam the streets as lovelorn thieves.
Despite the rich premise and the incredible ensemble cast, the film falls flat and is as blatant as its title. None of the characters is the least bit complex or sympathetic, and lacking effective character development, all remain foreign to the viewer.
The mothers-to-be, for the most part, play stereotypes of stupid “yanquis,” who slaughter the language and judge each other ruthlessly. If not wicked, they’re purely annoying as they cast about the American names and lives they’ll give their babies. The worst of the crew complains about everything and worries that her child will have racial and cultural “disabilities.”
The single redeemable Northern character just happens to be the only non-American, an Irish woman who’s short on cash. She’s one of only two who can speak decent Spanish; she is kind to the natives, though her sugary-sweet demeanor and painfully long monologue — a fantasy about what she’d do with her adopted daughter if she didn’t have to work, in front of a maid yearning for her own lost child — could almost make one gag.
And then there’s Daryl Hannah (who seems to be making a comeback, recently featured after years of apparent absence in the Tarantino sizzler, Kill Bill), who is another rare “nice” character. She’s an exercise-aholic who, despite a compelling, grim past, remains distant.
Meanwhile, the locals are forced to suffer the fools, not happily, and not thrilled that babies, as one character says, are “some of our greatest exportations.”
Painfully, Sayles provides us with two “angelic natives” who are hopeless Third World victims of our capitalist world, a condescending premise in and of itself.
For a character-based movie, you never get to know any of the characters, as they automatically spurt the differing sides of our world’s mothers’ economic dilemma, illustrating jealousies among those who desperately want babies, and those who have more babies than they can care for.
And unless you are entirely ignorant of the socioeconomic ills that have long plagued our capitalist world, the movie’s message is so sophomoric it’ll bruise your head. Maybe the moral of the story is best told by a man drinking with his friends, who says of the imperialist invaders, “They are too busy making money to procreate.”
Luckily for us, most humans aren’t this shallow. —
Opens Friday at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-263-2111.
Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].