by Steven Lankenau

Casa de Los Babys

dir. John Sayles

Opens Fri Oct 3

Various Theaters

On the surface, the subject of John Sayles' newest film, Casa de Los Babys, could hardly be less topical and more tedious: six American woman are staying in a nameless Latin American country while trying adopt a child. There is no overt political drama, no terrorism, guns, bombs, nudity, sexuality, bestiality, or hobbits.

Instead, the film taps into far more universal themes. The six woman are neither archetypes nor stereotypes, but represent readily identifiable personalities. Nan (Marcia Gay Harden) is overbearing, clearly Midwestern and, without a doubt, has never strayed beyond the missionary position. Her foil is Leslie (Lili Taylor), a hardened New York publisher who has sworn off relationships (though a true New Yorker would never be caught dead in the sandals she's wearing). Gayle (Mary Steenburgen) is the older, more introspective wallflower to Maggie Gyllenhaal's Jennifer, young and wealthy with impeccable social etiquette, yet clearly unhappy. Susan Lynch plays Eileen, a tender Irish woman transplanted to Boston, more colloquial yet more comfortable than the rest; and Skipper (Daryl Hannah) is a fitness queen from Colorado.

The interplay of these women is not as important as their views on motherhood and the way they view children; the (unspoken) debate around which this film centers. With a few notable exceptions, we don't learn why these women are pursuing adoption--only that they're willing to uproot themselves in hopes this faceless bureaucracy will give them a kid.

There is no significant drama present in Casa de Los Babys, but Sayles is such an accomplished master of understatement that small gestures and speeches become open to interpretation. He doesn't take sides in the women's minor squabbles, nor does he use the backdrop of an impoverished country to make a statement. Instead, the country's inhabitants are shown living and working as usual, and the hope or hopelessness of their situation is left for the viewer to decide.

Casa de Los Babys ends unsettlingly, raising more questions than it answers. It is a tragedy that it will probably be dismissed as a "chick flick," because, having been written and directed by someone capable of the rugged masculinity of Lonestar and Eight Men Out, Casa is one flick everyone could stand to see.