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Casa de los babys

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/20/04 19:32:41

"Shockingly uninvolving misfire from John Sayles."
3 stars (Just Average)

On the one hand, it seems a mite unfair to grouse that Casa de los Babys isn't a Lone Star or City of Hope, which Casa neither aspires to nor pretends to be. On the other hand, while many of John Sayles' smaller films (Men with Guns, Passion Fish, Limbo) are every bit as rich and satisfying as his larger, multi-generational, multi-cultural, socio-politically volatile "epics," Casa feels strangely remote and unfocused, causing one to exit the theatre feeling something was missing.

I can't fault the characterizations or the acting. In this predominantly female ensemble about the adoption process in an unnamed third-world country, Sayles has scripted strong roles for six Americans (Darryl Hannah as a body-obsessed women who lost three children at birth; Marcia Gay Harden as a pushy, archetypal Ugly American; Mary Steenburgen as a born-again Christian and recovering alcoholic; Lili Taylor as an edgy, single New York editor who wants a baby but not a man; Maggie Gyllenhaal as a tremulous young married woman seeking to salvage her failing marriage by adopting a child; and Susan Lynch as a poor Irish-American woman from Boston emotionally invested in the "idea" of having a baby) and two Latin American women (Rita Moreno and Vanessa Martinez as, respectively, the manager and maid at the hotel where the Americans reside while awaiting their adoptions). He has given them plenty of great conversation to have with each other, and each has her "showcase" scene, the most moving of which is Lynch and Martinez sharing their maternal dreams, hopes, and heartbreaks, neither one understanding a word of the other's language.

Where Casa seems to break down is that Sayles himself seems a bit distant from the proceedings, his usually strong socio-political voice curiously muffled here. With Sayles' films, it's almost impossible NOT to know exactly where he stands. Conversely, here, he "tells" us that birth rates are in direct inverse proportion to the economic ability of first-world versus third-world countries to support them; he "shows" us the bureaucratic snarl of red tape that accompanies this supply-and-demand process of adoption; and he "shows" us a glimpse of the lives of the street urchins in third-world societies for whom adoption is never a choice.

What Sayles doesn't seem to do (shockingly!) is take a stand himself, or (even more shockingly!) ask us to get involved. As a result, sadly, we never really get a sense of exactly who is exploiting whom in the big business of globalized adoption where babies are bought and sold and money is the name of the game for both sides

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