Mother and Child Reviews
This is yet another of those shotgun series of intertwining stories where seemingly disparate story lines vie for time and attention yet in this case they end up telling more than the stories themselves. Part of this is due to the fine cast that includes SL Jackson, Jimmi Smits, Naomi Watts and in particular Annette Bening, that breathed life into the characters that could otherwise have come off as cardboard cut outs in lesser hands.
Bening is just so good in portraying the prickly 50 something woman who still carries the burden of putting her child up for adoption back when she was 14 - some 37 years ago. She is so tightly wound and yet, as the film progresses she finally finds forgiveness for everything, including herself; a stellar performance where you can see the ice melt in her facial expressions (though I did think that her entire relationship with the easy going Smits was a bit unbelievable - it especially caught me off guard when the ever revolving door of stories told through short scenes came back to Bening to see her wedding day).
I also thought that Watt's character, a driven attorney who wants to be beholden to no-one... perhaps a residue from her being put up for adoption at birth (yep, by Bening), was a strong part and well played, although some of her motivations seemed a bit murky. Her interaction with Jackson sparkled, and Jackson was just so smooth and natural, as if he wasn't acting at all (which can also be said of Smits by the way).
The 3rd story arc here involves a young couple unable to conceive a child, so they decide to adopt. It is this story that, although a bit melodramatic, held my interest by showing the all too prevalent miscommunication between husband and wife, as well as the often misguided desire of some women to want to be mommies. The film was succinct in skewering the woman, showing her overblown temper tantrum when her hoped for adoptee was taken away from her (a fine bit of melodrama, yet scary for the histrionics and wailing "it's MY baby" emphasis on "it's mine", even though, at that point, she had absolutely no bonding with the babe). Shortly thereafter, after receiving another child (in a rather unbelievable set of circumstances), she complains that the bratty child is all take and no give... which allowed her mother to look her square in the eye and tell her to grow up. Clearly the woman was living in that wonderful fantasy land where the allure of having a child is just like that of any other material possession - and when the reality hits her that kids are a ton of hard work, she sees that she was duped by the overwhelming Christian ethic of go forth and propagate. She could only feel good about herself if she was somehow fulfilling that duty, whether by conceiving or adoption - her self worth depended on her being perceived as a mother.
The film of course squandered that good will by taking the last quarter of the film and tying everything into a nice bow of melodramatic happy ending - because, of course, god would not allow his children to suffer (uh huh, here we have a very real set of stories, about real people and real issues and then the film has to go and ruin it by subtly inserting a religious aspect to it all). I must admit that I tend to agree with a portion of what the message is here - life is to be lived, and forgiveness is the key to grace... including forgiving yourself. There is also the message that the past is done, so move on and look forward. This theme resonated for me, as I know someone closely who frequently wallows in an event that, although terrible, happened over 30 years ago - she'd be so much better off to forgive or at least forget, just as Bening's character was so much happier with her own skin and the world around her once she accepted that what was done is indeed done.
In the final analysis, there is a lot of truth in the film, and some of its observations on humanity and human interactions are well said; but by the ending I felt that the intertwining of the stories became just a bit too forced and convenient.
During their introduction, the actions by García's female characters are inexplicable. If Karen (Annette Bening) likes Paco (Jimmy Smits), why does she keep pushing him away with her obnoxious comments? Or, why does Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) get mad when her boss invites her to an intimate dinner, only to then come on to him aggressively? On top of that, it seemed like the film's writer/director was making an effort to make his characters unlikeable. At one point, I even asked myself: "why is everybody a bitch in this movie"?
But to see this characters evolve, influenced in different ways by motherhood, is a delight. The interconnected stories in this film, woven together beautifully by García, are very moving and I felt them as if they were mine in a way I can't even explain. Also, this is one of those movies where truly every actor in every part is outstanding. Naomi Watts, a terrific actress who definitely deserves more recognition, is incredible as sexually dominant Elizabeth. Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Shareeka Epps and many more turn in some great work.
The cast is absolutely great, and was the main thing that attracted me to this film. Naomi Watts is excellent as usual, and her character is probably the one of the main three that has the biggest arc and largest focus in the story. Annette Bening plays the the second of the "main" characters, and I honestly think her acting here was better than her critically acclaimed role in The Kids Are All Right. Kerry Washington is the other primary female character in the movie, and she also does a great job. Her role was probably the most emotionally tumultuous in the film, and she pulled it off very well.
Those three ladies are joined by a fine cast of supporting actors, including Samuel L. Jackson (in a rare understated role), David Ramsey, Tatyana Ali (where have you been you gorgeous woman?), Jimmy Smits, Carla Gallo, and many others. Great acting all- around, and each person gets to contribute without seeming like a superfluous cameo or pushing the running-time to an excessive length.
I realize that I haven't given a lot of story details, but the plot is fairly complex and a lot of the enjoyment of the movie comes from watching the emotional rollercoasters that some of the characters go through. Mother and Child is sad in some places, but manages to end on a happy note that feels genuine and doesn't come off as sappy in the least. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good drama.
Happily, the stellar cast led by Annette Bening and Naomi Watts, two of the most extraordinary screen actresses of our time, lift every scene above the atrocious TV style that Garcia keeps injecting. I wish that Garcia had turned over the direction to Ms. Bening. Then maybe "Mother and Child" would be a more completely fulfilling cinematic experience. But even with Garcia's gross style, the core material of "Mother and Child" is very good, and it is still is one of the best films of 2010. --unfinished--
"Mother and Child" starts exceedingly well, being performed well by an excellent cast, and taking a large chance on the audience sympathizing with two characters with the genetic predisposition to being prickly. But about the halfway point, the movie suffers a paradigm shift towards the sentimental, as the pace starts to drag with an especially contrived ending.
That tone shift interferes with the movie's otherwise thoughtful examination of adoption from both sides, with the maudlin emphasis now on the bonds between mother and child which it emotionally sees as unbreakable. There may be practical reasons to give up a child, as I get a sense that most adopted children may come from teenaged mothers who may not yet be ready(admittedly, some people are never mature enough to be parents, now matter how old they are). And there is nothing to think Karen would have been able to handle the responsibilities at 14. No matter, the movie gets it right when it points out that family does not necessarily have to be biological.
Great characterizations include Annette Bening as a regretful wife and Jimmy Smits as her sympathetic husband, Kerry Washington who hopes to adopt a child despite the obstacles, and indeed Watts is excellent as a determined pregnant single lawyer. This is one of the few 'several tales that cross paths' machinations that actually works.