Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Mother and Child

2009. Dir: Rodrigo Garcia. Starring: Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson. ●●●○○

As I said last weekend I was steadfast in refusing to see the Meryl does Maggie movie and so chose the less controversial adoption melodrama Mother and Child, and indeed this was a wise choice as Rodrigo Garcia's gentle paced picture was a delightful piece of sentimentality even if it slightly unravelled with it's slew of coincidences towards the end.

The film opens on a flashback/dream with the young Karen, later to become Annette Bening, making the sort of mistake many 14 year olds do and then offering the outcome to the local Nuns for adoption. We then move forward 37 years to the present day, Karen now outwardly a successful physiotherapist remains bitter and emotionally stunted, unable to connect with her co-workers or her maid/mother's carer. Meanwhile Naomi Watts is a high-flying attorney, with a penchant for asserting her authority through sex and struggling with abandonment issues stemming from being adopted. Have you guessed yet? Finally we meet Kerry Washington following the process to adopt, Juno-like from grad student Shareeka Epps.

All three women will find their lives changed by motherhood, and ultimately all three will learn that being mothers is the most rewarding and wonderful experience even if they won't get the opportunity to fully establish that sort of relationship. Perhaps oddly (perhaps not, let's remember the title) the men are defined purely in terms of their relationships to women, either as weak pawns of stronger characters (Washington's husband David Ramsey, controlled by his mother, Marc Blucas or to a lesser extent the snazzily dressed Samuel L. Jackson) or at best quite and supportive - Jimmy Smits as the patient colleague of Bening who eventually settles down with her helping her find a less painful existence.

The film bears all the hallmarks of being produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu with it's structural coincidences, especially in the final act as all the remaining loose ends get tidied up - although there's one neat twist involving Bening walking somewhere which makes for a nice opportunity to see her emotional as well as physical journey.

The performances are what really works in this film, Bening especially gives a wonderful turn as a woman who can not let get of the daughter she never met. The moment when she hears - second hand - of her own mothers regret at making her give the baby up is incredibly moving. The turn makes for an interesting companion piece to Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids are All Right and I imagine most fans of that film will also be drawn to Garcia's picture. S. Epatha Merkerson is also great in potentially a thankless role as Washington's mother.

The design of the film and direction is largely uninvolving, and overall the film could do with some hefty cuts as there are sections where it labours unnecessarily, nonetheless this is a fine melodrama and I look forward to seeing what writer/director Garcia does next. (After Albert Nobbs that is.)

By the way - to my readers this doesn't feel like one of my best reviews. I guess I'm a little rusty after a couple of months off. Next week I'm seeing War Horse which will hopefully put me back on track.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

The film is problematic but the performances are so overwhelming lovely, okay maybe I exaggerate but it's a shame that they weren't remembered last year when it was released in the US.Sure, Annette had Kids (and she's so good in both) but Kerry and Naomi are excellent, and Cherry Jones in that bit role as the nun. Manipulative, but still oddly satisfying.

Alex in Movieland said...

you might remember I was a quite a fan of this. :) Naomi Watts rulz.

Runs Like A Gay said...

The way I see it all the actors give great performances in scenes, however because of the issues with the writing there are character development issues which prevent the actors being taken seriously for awards contention.