Lifelike Creatures is a twisting tale in three acts. Fasten your seatbelt. Just when you think you know where this wild ride is headed, the Saint-Romain women – mother and daughter – slam the brakes or jerk the steering wheel leaving your assumptions scattered roadside like jettisoned ballast. With act one, I was sure I was reading a coming-of-age story in which brilliant, independent teenaged Tara and her beautiful, wild-hearted, underestimated mother Joan would do battle to a mutually respectful draw, maybe something akin to Peter Rock’s My Abandonment. By act two I was convinced Joan Saint-Romain’s story was a modern-day Silkwood or Erin Brockovich or Norma Rae. Then act three flips the script on both those tropes, reminding me that the best stories are the ones you don’t see coming.
One of the many appealing things about Rebecca Baum’s telling of this story is that it is both familiar, in a ripped-from-the-headlines sort of way—i.e. corporate malfeasance, white and black hats, environmental destruction, illicit drugs, class warfare, situational ethics—and surprisingly personal. Martin Ritt, the director of Norma Rae, said that in making the movie he wasn’t interested in labor unions, he was interest in the personal story of the woman at the center of the conflict. Ms. Baum has the same primary interest. This isn’t a story about an individual who comes to symbolize something larger; it is a story about individuals caught in extraordinary circumstances and how they respond. Their responses demonstrate how complex, nuanced and personal human drama is. Lifelike Creatures is a plainspoken story that deftly avoids polemics and convenient heroes and villains. And its page-turner plot is always driven by its many memorable, full-fleshed characters. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.