Mother and Child
“No I can’t stop yellin’, cause that’s how I talk! Haven’t you seen my movies?!”

Theatrical Release Date: 05/14/2010
Director: Rodrigo García
Cast: Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, S. Epatha Merkerson, Shareeka Epps, Ahmed Best, Carla Gallo, Cherry Jones, Brittany Robertson, Marc Blucas, Tatyana Ali, Elpidia Carrillo, David Morse

Getting pregnant at 14 and giving your child up for adoption is a weighty premise. Seeing the repercussions on both mother and child, as well as a circle of people who cross their paths 37 years later, is the subject of writer/director Rodrigo García’s appropriately titled “Mother and Child”.

Annette Bening plays a physical therapist living her life paralyzed by the guilt of giving up her daughter (Naomi Watts). After the death of her mother and as a new man (Jimmy Smits) enters her life, she’s forced to deal with her issues. At the same time (how convenient), Watts’ character, a successful lawyer, is forced to deal with her abandonment issues following a pattern of emotionally destructive and defensive behavior that leads her in an unplanned (and also convenient) direction.

And while all of this is happening, an infertile woman (Kerry Washington) is desperate to adopt and start a family of her own (the number of convenient elements within this plot necessary to connect it all is almost mind boggling.) And that’s not even mentioning another half dozen characters that will factor into one or more of these three main plots at some point.

As the film began to unfold and multiple plot strands were laid out amongst conveniently connected characters, I was reminded of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s narrative trademark; the one key difference being that this film is told in chronological order. Well, to no big surprise, as the credits rolled his name popped up as one of the executive producers. Inarritu’s connection is neither good nor bad, merely an easy way to exemplify the near convoluted character paths that will all come together in some neat, albeit unrealistic and in this case, unsatisfying resolution.

Without giving it all away, let’s just say that most of the characters figure out how to reconcile their issues just in time for the audience to leave the theater. I’m a fan of this plot structure when it’s done well but relying so much on coincidence and convenience can backfire very easily and that’s unfortunately what has happened here.

On the plus side, there are some good performances. Naomi Watts rarely misses the mark (“The International” being perhaps her worst performance) and she does a good job of balancing the predatory and vulnerable aspects of the character. Kerry Washington is seriously underrated, as she seems to almost transform herself in every role, and her skills allow a role that feels one dimensional on the page become something a bit more on screen.

Though as far as the main women go, Annette Bening is the weak link. Her performance isn’t terrible but feeling sympathy for a character can only last so long when many of her problems are a result of denying herself the opportunity to move on. And then, once her character begins to push forward, it feels like the audience missed the step where her character truly understood how to love herself enough to connect with others … that element is there but not handled effectively enough.

On the negative side, while the female characters are given some development, the men are essentially shorted and made one dimensional doormats with hearts of gold who make unmalicious mistakes. Whether it’s Samuel L. Jackson playing both father and lover archetype to Watts, Smits being a selfless Godsend to Bening, or Ahmed Best eventually kowtowing to his mother’s wishes and leaving Washington alone in her bid to adopt, all of them are essentially silent enablers in the whole affair – no matter the pivotal role in their respective partner’s emotional journeys.

Despite generally good performances, “Mother and Child” comes off as self-indulgent and plays the martyr card with impunity. A 2.5 out of 5, the makings of a great and moving film are here but some script restructuring is in dire need. If you loved “Babel” and “The Burning Plain“, this might work for you but don’t expect it to live up to either example.