Mothers and daughters are cool and all, but what about the fathers and sons? Where’s their movie!
When she was just 14-years-old, Karen (Annette Bening) had a fling with an older boy and got pregnant. Rather than keeping the kid around at such an early age when, let’s face it, she was still a kid, she gave it up for adoption for the nuns themselves to take care of. Many years later, Karen is regretting that decision every day she lives, and it’s starting to affect the relationships she has with those around her, most importantly, a fellow co-worker (Jimmy Smits), who definitely seems like he’s interested in her. Karen’s biological daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), surprisingly enough, is doing quite well for herself. She’s a hot-shot lawyer on the brink of becoming more and more successful, even if she doesn’t have a husband, or any kids – but that doesn’t faze Elizabeth because, quite frankly, she doesn’t want any. Even though, yes, she does start up something of an unprofessional relationship with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband (David Ramsey) are preparing to adopt a child, but are finding themselves at odds with the whole process, as well as one another.
There’s a whole lot of respect I have set out there somewhere in the world for Rodrigo Garcia because, as it seems to me, he’s the only one actually going out of his way to make challenging, yet, engaging portraits of women such as the one’s he covers in his movies. Sure, there’s other directors out there doing it, but for as long as he’s been making movies, Garcia has been giving us solid, small, and tender looks at the lives of various women in the world; some are obviously more likable than others, but there’s a sense of grit and realism to them that makes their more nasty traits, somewhat bearable.
And that is exactly the case with Mother and Child, where some characters will drive you up a wall so much, you’ll want to tear a whole house down.
Take, for instance, the character of Elizabeth – while you want to respect her and give her credit for taking her own body and life in control, and not needing the satisfaction of a man or family to make her feel sane, or better yet, happy, there’s also this feeling that she’s a heartless witch that you want to yell at because she deserves it. However, people like Elizabeth do exist out there in the real world; they don’t always make the best decisions and they may do stuff in their own self-interest, regardless of who else they hurt, but the fact is, they exist in a society with us.
That’s why, no matter how long or how many times a character here ticked me off, I had to remind myself that, “Oh wait, these are like some people I know in real life.” Garcia does a nice job of giving us a sense of who these characters are, while also not telling us everything we need to possibly know about them from the very beginning; there’s certain mysteries and surprises about each and everyone of these characters that get revealed over the two-hour run-time that are most definitely, and will make you see these characters in a different light than before. Whether it’s a more negative, or positive one, depends solely on your viewpoint, but it’s this kind of attention to characters that always makes me pleased watching Garcia’s movies.
Even when, you know, the writing for the story isn’t always there.
Mother and Child is a little over two-hours and with that, we get a lot of scenes that probably could have been taken out altogether. Though there’s maybe three-to-four subplots going on here, maybe two of them are actually the least bit interesting and relevant, whereas the other two seem to come and go as they please, giving us better looks at the talented cast, but ultimately, not doing much to hold our interest. This is a problem I’ve had with most of Garcia’s movies and while I definitely applaud him for expanding his focus, sometimes, it can seem like he’s wasting everyone’s time with something that’s not really all that exciting to watch in the first place.
Then again, the cast is so good here that it’s almost too hard to not watch and be the least bit compelled. Annette Bening gets a chance to play someone who is a bit mean and nasty to those around her, and well, she does well at it. You’ll start to wonder what it is about her that could be deemed “sympathetic”, but sooner or later, she lets her guard down and you start to see something resembling a soul and heart deep down inside that makes it work. It also helps that her and Jimmy Smits have a pretty solid chemistry together, too.
There’s also Kerry Washington as a soon-to-be-mother who has constant issues with adopting. This is the one subplot I had the most problem with, not just because it didn’t fit so well into the other two, but because it was the least believable and, honestly, the most poorly-written. The way Garcia has Washington’s character written out to be is that she’s so desperate for a child, that she doesn’t care where it comes from, who’s giving it to her, or what it is that she has to do. That means some of the scenes that she has with Shareeka Epps’ character (someone who was great in Half Nelson, but is terrible here), really come off as kind of comical.
We get it that she wants a baby, but is she really going to put up with that much crap from a 17-year-old?
No matter what though, this movie is Naomi Watts to steal and she’s the one I couldn’t stop thinking about the most. Like I mentioned before, Elizabeth is by far the most infuriating character out of the bunch (which is saying something), but Watts allows for us, every so often, to see shades of humanity that work and make us understand this character a tad more. She treats people around her terribly and is manipulative in every which way, but there’s a reason for it all, and it’s all effective. So effective that the last scene with her, honestly, is a real shocker and will catch you by surprise.
But hey, that’s just the power of Naomi Watts when the material is there for her and she’s come ready to play.
Consensus: Though uneven, Mother and Child benefits from a strong cast and attention characters that we rarely see nowadays, let alone for women.
7 / 10