written and directed by John Sayles
by Walter Chaw It feels increasingly as if John Sayles is a little sick of making John Sayles films. This dramatically inert ensemble piece about a group of American women in a South American limbo hoping to adopt babies feels curiously underwritten and stale despite the heaviness of the dialogue. Maggie Gyllenhaal makes the best impression as a woman of privilege who hopes a child will save her marriage, but like the rest of the cast (Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Lili Taylor, Susan Lynch, Rita Moreno, Mary Steenburgen), her character is composed of one dramatic moment, a few uncomfortably didactic lines, and a sketch that doesn't go much beyond workshop outline. Coming off worst are Harden as a shrill kleptomaniac and Hannah as a Coloradoan health nut with a tragic history. Sayles's obsessions with the plight of the working class and the lefty disdain for television and the lottery (handled with more grace in the director's City of Hope) seem threadbare here, almost perfunctory, and his last South American epic, the amazing Men with Guns, seems already to have said all there needs to be said about the plight of youth in tension between capitalist imperialism and third-world civil unrest. More puzzling is the decline of Sayles as a lyrical craftsman and careful visual stylist--the trade-off between his most fruitful collaborations with Haskell Wexler for the flatness of DP Maurizio Rubenstein's images renders Casa de los Babys something contrary to Sayles's core beliefs in the story of place and the power of cinema as the modern "oral" tradition. Originally published: October 15, 2003.