Women with hopes of adopting a baby

October 10, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

John Sayles has something to say in Casa de los Babys, about the relentless poverty afflicting Mexico, about the tragedy of children growing up among such depravation, about Americans and their condescending attitudes, about the plight of mothers forced to give up their babies and the emotional trauma suffered by women who desperately want children, but can't have them.

Casa de los Babys, in which six women share a Mexican motel while waiting for the babies they've been promised, addresses all of those issues. What it forgets to do is do it in the form of a movie. Instead, what Sayles gives us are a series of snapshots and a group of actresses all relishing the one big scene his script affords them.

Like all of Sayles' films, Casa contains moments of heartbreaking beauty. Daryl Hannah, whose character has endured three miscarriages before deciding on adoption as the only option left to her, has a rending monologue in which she talks about her three babies. And there's an exchange between Susan Lynch, as an Irish-bred Bostonian desperate to be the mother of her dreams, and Vanessa Martinez, as a Mexican maid who gave up her child for adoption and still prays for her daily, that's almost chilling in its emotional honesty - even though neither woman speaks the other's language.

None of this, however, makes for much of a narrative. Nor does it help that Sayles made two characters, Marcia Gay Harden's thieving, ugly American and Lili Taylor's cynical New Yorker, such caricatures that any time they spend on-screen seems too much. Sayles' empathy for social inequalities, especially between cultures, has brought forth some great films (Lone Star, for instance). Regrettably, Casa isn't one of them.

Casa de los Babys

Starring Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Daryl Hannah, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Written and directed by John Sayles

Rated R (some language and brief drug use)

Released by IFC Films (in English and Spanish, with English subtitles)

Time 95 minutes

Sun Score **

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