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Mother and Child

2010-05-12 13:17
Mother and Child

What it's about:

Lonely, middle-aged Karen (Annette Bening) is tormented by the memory of the baby she gave up as a teenager. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a cold, determined lawyer who returns to the LA of her birth and finds a job at a law firm run by widower Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). Across town, Lucy (Kerry Washington), a baker who has been struggling to have children of her own, decides to adopt with her less-than-enthusiastic husband.

What we thought:

A film with as much female acting prowess as Mother and Child could so easily turn off a discerning male audience who'd rather avoid the latest Vagina Monologues or whatever variation of that theme we've seen masquerading as 'chick flicks'. Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, this is a film that offers so much more: a glimpse into dark, bleeding hearts, access to unknowable grief and the invisible ties that bind us all – through blood or not.

The performances is what makes this worth the ticket price. Garcia's producer on this movie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is renowned for telling sprawling stories of disparate people separated by distance, heritage and ideals – ordinary people – who are nonetheless connected to and affected by  one another. His keen interest in large-scale butterfly effect stories has generated some profound moments in movies like 21 Grams, Babel and Amores Perros.

But back to those outstanding  performances Garcia has coaxed out of his wonderful cast. You're unlikely to forget Watt's frosty, controlling Elizabeth, a woman who has reacted to her adoption as a newborn and difficult childhood by rejecting any kind of relationship with other people, beyond the carnal. Her tenacity at first impresses new boss Paul and when Elizabeth initiates an affair, her cold-hearted determination and control scares him. Their first sexual encounter is something to be seen, and is as frightening and scintillating as a sex scene can be without the use of any toys or gratuitous nudity. With that, Watts gets the distinction of being involved in two of the most memorable film sex scenes in recent times (the other, of course, she shared with Laura Harring in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive).

Bening's performance almost mirrors Watts' and its not long before the connection between them becomes evident. When all the pieces start to come together it's a cathartic, powerful moment, even though it's a long journey before we get there.

A drama about the burden and the blessings of motherhood sounds a rather cumbersome prospect, and there are moments when the film seems to groan under the weight of its own gravitas. Mother and Child ends up being one of the few family films that's not family-friendly.

Genuinely affecting performances elevate a faintly familiar story about how three women are connected by motherhood and adoption.

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