Casa de Los Babys
review by Dan Lybarger, 19 September 2003

Writer John Sayles' detractors sometimes dismiss his self-directed films as civics lessons. When he's making his own films, Sayles is often more worried about cultural clashes and other social issues than he is with figuring how to make things blow up. But to his credit, Sayles can also tap into the factors that prevent easy resolutions to issues like cross border immigration, and he's also careful to make his characters seem more like people than personifications.

That's frequently the case with his latest inexpensively made and dialogue-heavy film, Casa de Los Babys. In addition to examining the strains in cross-border relations between the United States and its neighbors to the south, Sayles also examines even broader topics like love and motherhood. He might be examining quirks in legal and political systems, but he's still capable of making seemingly arcane subject matter engrossing and occasionally moving.

His protagonists are a group of six women who are all but stranded in an unnamed Latin American country. Each is waiting to adopt a child, but all are required to temporarily live in the country before they can take the tots home with them.  Their hosts are ambivalent, to say the least, about the would-be mothers. The frustrated hotel owner Sra. Muñoz (Rita Moreno) has had enough of one particularly fussy customer (Marcia Gay Harden) but needs the group's money to stay in business.

The rest of Sra. Muñoz's guests might be a little more agreeable, but each brings her own baggage. Skipper (Daryl Hannah) alienates the rest of the group because she's so preoccupied with fitness, and Leslie's (Lili Taylor) disregard for men makes the other suspect she's a closeted lesbian. Jennifer's (Maggie Gyllenhaal) relationship with her husband is at a shaky point, Gayle (Mary Steenburgen) is a recovering alcoholic and Eileen (Susan Lynch) is an Irish lass who seems just a little too nice.

Sayles keeps track of all the would-be mothers and keeps their personalities distinct. He also gives most of them enough shading to keep them from becoming stereotypes or ideological mouthpieces. Harden's Nan might have some irritatingly racist views, but Sayles later reveals that these aren't the worst of her problems. For a lifelong bachelor who's never had kids, it's remarkable that Sayles is able to tap into his protagonists' desires so convincingly.

He also has a good eye for the region as well. It certainly doesn't hurt that he taught himself Spanish to write his novel Los Guzanos, and that he's filmed in Mexico before (Men with Guns). The local residents range from a wannabe revolutionary who, with some truth, claims the gringas are stealing his country's young to a maid who hopes that Eileen will become the mother of a child she's had to abandon.

Sayles doesn't whitewash how difficult it is for children in these nations, but he's also quick to point out that some of the adoptees might be better off as urchins in the street (one shutters at the thought of Nan raising a kid).

Sayles' pacing drags at times, but he easily atones for it by penning some moving soliloquies and some choice zingers. When Leslie finds out her hosts are stuck with television offerings that are worse than in her native New York, she declares, "Stupidity. It's the universal language."

If Casa de Los Babys is a civics lesson, it's thankfully delivered by a teacher who’s far more insightful and witty than many of the ones I had in school.

Written and
Directed by:

John Sayles

Daryl Hannah
Marcia Gay Harden
Mary Steenburgen
Rita Moreno
Lili Taylor
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Susan Lynch
Pedro Armendáriz Jr.
Bruno Bichir
Angelina Peláez
Vanessa Martinez
Juan Carlos Vives
Miguel Rodarte
David Hevia
Martha Higareda

Written by:
Randy Pearlstein 
Eli Roth

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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