Jennifer wants a baby. She is cute, young and inquisitive. Nan wants a baby too. She’s got money. She’s ruthless, stern and will do anything - lie, bribe or steal - to get one.
Skipper is tall and blonde. She can’t deliver a healthy baby, but she wants one too.
Eileen wants nothing more than to be a good mother, to be the pillar of strength and nurturing to a helpless and needy baby girl.
Gayle has made mistakes in life, but she’s older now and wants to be a fair mother, a friend to her child. Then there is Leslie. She’s sick of men and wants to be a single mother.
So who gets the baby?
“Casa de los Babys” is a political and emotional drama that chronicles
the story of six American women from different backgrounds and principles, with one thing in common: each has found her way to South
America to adopt a baby. The circumstances of their stay create a dynamic that is certain to create competition, questioned confidence, and that thing women are known best for, bonding.
Writer-director John Sayles (“Sunshine State,” “Limbo,” “Men with Guns,” “Lone Star”) integrates the six Americans with the rest of the mostly-Mexican cast and crew with a great amount of social consciousness evidenced by his multi-faceted view of overseas adoption.
Each of the Americans has a different perspective and set of expectations: entitlement, worry, angst, patience, excitement. Sayles’ use of such diverse characters and personalities types is more than just an exercise in good character writing. It is a comment on the complexity of the issue at hand.
He combines the Americans’ perspectives with that of the local mothers, the young, often religious, certainly poor women stuck with a hard
decision to make: adoption or abortion. For many, it is common to give up a child to the “House of the Babies.”
As the movie continues, the women begin to reveal the deeper aspects
of their lives and personalities. In the best scene of the movie, arguably one of the best dramatic dialogues of all time, a local maid, Asuncion (Vanessa Martinez), and Eileen share the intense feelings they have about motherhood and adoption.
What makes this scene so powerful is that neither woman understands the
other’s language. Asuncion’s dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles while Eileen speaks in English. Yet, it is clear that the two women can relate to each other’s emotions, albeit from opposite sides of the situation. And, the emotions are strong enough to carry themselves without the usual cheesiness of most tearjerker scenes.
But Sayles doesn’t stop there. He also shows the perspective of the
children; the implied perspective of those adopted, and the reality for
those left behind. In a sense, this perspective solidifies the overall tone of the movie. It epitomizes the clash of worlds that surrounds the
innocence of babies who just need to be held and cared for.
For example, Nan, in a moment of neurotic desperation, threatens her local lawyer for not getting her adoption application cleared fast enough. She tries to bribe him and says, “At this rate the baby will be talking full sentences by the time we get it. I don’t want to have to undo all that ... These are crucial months for learning.”
After Nan leaves, the lawyer sarcastically quips, “I’m sorry ma’am, but
we do not accept American Express for our babies. But for your convenience there is an ATM in the lobby.”
The son of the proprietor of the Casa de los Babys voices his
anti-imperialist sentiment over beers with his friends one evening. They discuss the “American mothers” and their desire to adopt South
American babies in order to give them “better” lives in the North. “We give them the raw material and they refine it,” he said.
Although the acting and directing is superb, the only fault of “Casa
de los Babys” is that it brings up too many issues and is unable to come full circle with any of them. It is hard to accomplish this with about 10 main characters, all well developed and crucial to the story, but all vying for the same screen time.