Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Famous Flops: Motherhood

Welcome to the latest in my Famous Flops series, in which I watch one film each month that was a financial loser, a critical loser, or just plain a loser, and then write about the experience.

Note: I know I promised Cutthroat Island this month, but I couldn't find it here in Oz. Oh well. Geena Davis and Renny Harlin are spared my wrath.

The term "flop" is first and foremost a financial term, but I have not really been using it as such in this series. In some cases the films really have tanked, financially, but in others -- such as The Room -- they are continuing to make money in theaters as we speak. Which can hardly make them a financial disappointment.

My October movie is one that's only famous -- to the extent that it actually is famous -- for how little money it made.

If you haven't heard of the Uma Thurman vehicle Motherhood, that's probably because you missed the little tidbit of news about what happened when it was released theatrically in England. In March of 2010, Motherhood was released in exactly one London theater, the Apollo Piccadilly Circus, where only a single nine-pound ticket was purchased for its opening night performance. Its gross for the weekend was only 88 pounds, the result of only 11 tickets purchased.

That, my friends, is a dud.

And an unprecedented catastrophe of poor marketing.

Well, Motherhood is bad. That's been no guarantee in this series, but it's true in this case.

It strikes you with its oddness from the start. Looking at the movie's poster, you know this is a comedy. But the movie starts with the camera panning over a dark room full of clutter with no sound on the soundtrack -- hardly the way you'd expected to be greeted into a silly romp. Eventually -- I mean after a full minute or two of this -- a song that's somewhere between cheesy and mournful kicks in, and Uma Thurman's hero mother starts to kick in her day before anyone in the house awakens. It's a bad choice.

What follows is sort of a character study, sort of a story about Thurman's character, her two kids, and her sort-of distant husband (Anthony Edwards). The only real plot that I'm aware of is that it's about to be her daughter's birthday, and she has to get together some stuff for the party. Oh, she's also got a pregnant friend (Minnie Driver) with whom she regularly checks in. The scant running time is devoted not so much to a plot, but to things that happen to Thurman over the course of a day or two (it may just be one day, I can't recall for sure). As a little bit of a spine, she's trying to write a piece on what motherhood means to her, to win some kind of contest. She's a mommy blogger, you see.

Let's stop right there. This was the second point where I could be sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Motherhood was shoddily made. The camera focuses in on the ad that notifies Thurman of the contest, and you can easily read the deadline: such and such a date, "12 PM Midnight!" Midnight is of course 12 AM, not 12 PM. Whatever dummy wrote this ad in the world of the movie might make a mistake like that, but the only reason the movie should make a mistake like that is if it makes a point out of the fact that the dummy who wrote the ad made a mistake. Without that, we are left to conclude that it was just an incompetent person in the movie's production office who wrote that poor ad copy.

After the poor opening, the movie just can't ever figure out the right tone. It wants to be light and funny sometimes, succeeding at the former but not the latter, but other times it wants to be raunchy and inappropriate. For example, in one particularly awful scene involving the oh-so-New York problem of not wanting to lose your parking space, Thurman lights up a cigarette in front of her young child, after failing to properly secure the child in the back seat of her car. You'd think a movie pitched to mothers, that wants us to like Thurman, wouldn't have her character commit either of these sins -- the latter one in particular is basically unconscionable. Later in that same scene, a driver she's gridlocking by adamantly blocking traffic in order to keep her parking spot calls her the C-word. Really? In this "light and fluffy" movie?

Then there are just the scenes that seem absurd. Like, the scene where an attractive young man helps her carry a ridiculous number of groceries and other parcels up to her apartment, and she offers him a drink as a sign of thanks. It's a temptation for her to cheat on her husband, and the two end up dancing to some music. In another accidental error like the AM/PM snafu, the person in charge of choreographing their dance moves totally drops the ball here. There's not meant to be anything funny about how they dance -- if so, the movie should have played it up more explicitly. Instead, they both convulse their bodies awkwardly in the same way, as though the choreographer said "This is how both men and women dance - follow me!" It's even funnier if you imagine that there's a third person off camera convulsing his or her body in the same way.

The director, Katherine Deickmann, made another movie that I thought was pretty odd called A Good Baby, which I saw and reviewed about ten years ago. But that baby was a lot better than this one.

Okay, that's enough about Motherhood. You aren't going to see it -- especially not now.

In November, I've got something I know I'll be able to find, because it came out only a couple months ago and has just made its video debut. And boy is The Lone Ranger a flop in every sense of the word. Let's see if I am offended by Johnny Depp's impression of a native American, or am in the small community of critics who find Gore Verbinski's film worthwhile.


Nick Prigge said...

Oh Uma, my poor Uma. What have the done with my poor Uma?

I was once such a passionate Uma fan but this.....this was just terrible. I agree with everything you see. Everything about it - EVERYTHING! - just Ugh.

I'd never heard that London story. That's beyond unbelievable. "Motherhood" actually opened the Chicago Film Festival in 2009, with Uma present and everything! Can you imagine what that audience must have been like? How long can you be a courteous?

Vancetastic said...

Wow, this played at a festival? I am shocked.

This was one of those movies where I wished I'd taken notes, just so I could be more authoritative in my dismissal. Do you take notes when you watch films you know you will be reviewing? The level of detail in your reviews suggest that you might. I can hardly be bothered with it anymore, though I used to do this regularly.

Nick Prigge said...

I don't take notes actually. I really just like to be immersed when watching a film. I can somehow remember essentially everything I see in a film, yet took two and a half years of Spanish and remember, like, 12 words. My mind is a weird place.