17 November 2010

Review: "Mother and Child"

Annette Bening and Naomi Watts give two of their best recent performances in Rodrigo Garcia's Mother and Child. The film was released in May 2010 after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. It is a shame that this fantastic film was released amid the summer blockbusters without much promotion because these two actresses, along with Kerry Washington, deliver exceptional performances in a deeply moving film. It did not help that the hype surrounding Annette Bening's performance in The Kids Are All Right overshadowed this overlooked gem. The film centres around three women and the effect that adoption has had on their individual lives. Karen has never recovered after giving up her baby when she was a teenager, Elizabeth flourishes in her professional life but struggles personally, and while Lucy is unable to conceive she yearns to adopt a baby of her own. Rodrigo Garcia has been heavily involved with the television show In Treatment and the tone of Mother and Child is reminiscent of the HBO series. He keeps a steady control over his film and the film is emotionally cohesive while juggling three separate yet interconnected stories. As always, I enjoy substance over style and Mother and Child succeeds with three incredible performances from its lead actresses who expertly navigate the emotional landscape of the film.

Karen (Bening) had a baby daughter when she was fourteen years old. Thirty-seven years later she is still emotionally distraught. She works as a health care professional and takes care of her aging mother alone at home. Karen, extremely bitter and suffering from anxiety, overreacts when Paco (Jimmy Smits) pursues her. Elizabeth (Watts) is a successful thirty-seven lawyer. She takes a job at a firm run by Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). Elizabeth thrives at her new job but begins having an affair with Paul. She has a habit of running away from her problems and does so once again when she discovers she is pregnant. Lucy (Washington) is eager to start a family with her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) but is unable to conceive. They are introduced to a young woman named Ray (Shareeka Epps) who really does not like Joseph. All three women struggle to maintain control of their lives and the effects of adoption are seen through three very different pairs of eyes. The three stories are united by Sister Joanie (Cherry Jones) who works at an adoption agency.

I could never begin to understand the effect of adoption. Mother and Child is a film about three women whose lives are each affected by adoption in vastly different ways. Karen has never recovered, Elizabeth has never cared to find her birth mother, and Lucy wants so much to be a good mother. Although these three women start as strangers there is a shared emptiness inside of each of them. It is both painful and beautiful to watch Karen, Elizabeth and Lucy as their lives change as their stories become intertwined. As with In Treatment, which requires an intense emotional commitment, Rodrigo Garcia has crafted a film about character. Mother and Child is an emotionally gripping film with great performances from all actors, the most surprising and refreshing is Samuel L. Jackson. There is a great elegance and subtlety to his performance. It is a great contrast to the powerful performance of Naomi Watts. She and Annette Bening are such terrific actresses and I hope that there will be a film that will give them more time on screen together.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.


  1. Great review - I feel like Annette Bening was So good in this (even better than The Kids Are All Right) so i'm very sad that she's been so overlooked.

  2. I agree, but Mother and Child is not the type of film that will gather much attention. It is a very reserved and controlled film, not quite letting itself get too emotional. Annette Bening is a fantastic actress and I can't say I've seen her give a poor performance.