Urban Cinefile
"I've got people saying what is your image? Who gives a fuck? I just play the role."  -Russell Crowe
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday September 22, 2019 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Karen (Annette Bening) a reserved 50-something single nurse, is caring for her ageing mother, while quietly nursing her demons: she was 14 when she gave up her baby daughter for adoption 37 years ago and has never searched for her. She is drawn out of her shell when at the hospital she meets Paco (Jimmy Smits). Her daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) has grown into a singe-minded career woman working as a successful lawyer, and is having an affair with her boss Paul (Samuel L. Jackson); she, too, has avoided contact with her biological mother. Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband Joseph (David Ramsay) are unable to have a baby and are desperate to adopt a child. Their lives are destined to cross in an unexpected and life changing way.

Review by Louise Keller:
As he did in his 2005 film Nine Lives, writer director Rodrigo García gets under the skin of emotionally troubled women in his latest film, in which he explores complex issues pertaining to mothers and daughters. Garcia's obvious fascination for women continues and here, he tells the story of three women whose stories intersect dramatically and climactically. Three superb actresses (Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington) portray the women for whom the impact of being a mother is painfully different. Loss is a common thread that links the women and as a result Garcia's film is punctuated by a sense of longing. Involving, intriguing and heart-rending, Mother and Child takes us beyond our comfort zone as emotional boundaries are stretched and canvassed. It is an intriguing film, but there are flaws - notably some awkward jumps in time, a grating music score and an over-zealous script which does not know when economy can be an asset.

Each of the three key women is in a different headspace. Annette Bening's Karen is difficult and unhappy. It's like a slap in the face, to see her ageing, dependent mother have a richer and warmer relationship with her cleaning lady, than with her. She lives with the burden of loss since her mother forced her to give away the baby girl to whom she gave birth, aged 14. Jimmy Smits' foot-in-mouth Paco is a great character, who manages to revive her emotional recovery.

Naomi Watts' successful lawyer Elizabeth symbolically wears only black and white, readily admitting she is not 'in the sisterhood'. We quickly learn her moral code; the scene when she leaves her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) in her bed, then invitingly and provocatively shows her naked body to the (married) man (Marc Blucas) in the next apartment from her balcony, is shocking.

Kerry Washington's childless wife Lucy talks a lot; is anxious to please and is willing to go to any lengths to adopt a child - even at the cost of her own marriage. It's a difficult role, yet Washington lays her heart on the line. Whether she is confiding to her mother in the bakery, or to the mother whose baby she hopes to adopt, we hope beyond hope she will not be disappointed.

Garcia fleshes out his characters expertly and we learn more about each of them as circumstances change. Our heart aches and smiles; there are tears of pain and joy as Karen, Elizabeth and Lucy follow their destinies. Motherhood, adoption, birth and death are powerful themes and all's the pity that Garcia was not able to quite pull the film off. Nevertheless, it is women who will get the most out of the film.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Rodrigo Garcia's ode to women - mothers - is genuine, if idealised and a bit too stilted much of the time. But you can't improve on the casting, neither for astute matches to character nor for the quality of their performances.

Naomi Watts is unselfish and effective as the emotionally cold Elizabeth, who has grown up (while being angry) without mother or father, self sufficient - yet insufficient. Annette Bening as Karen is likewise free of vanity concerns as the woman ageing into bitterness since the day at 14 when she gave away her baby daughter. Samuel L. Jackson is at his most convincing and engaging as Paul, the head of the law firm where Elizabeth gets a job - plus all his personal attention. Jimmy Smits is likeable as the low key stranger who slips into Karen's life and manages to get through her pain-resistant, angry shell. Kerry Washington is moving as the young wife desperate for a baby - even if it means adopting one.

The characters and the cast should deliver in spades, but the story falters, makes a couple of clumsy jumps and twists into contorted tangles with subplots that are mere distractions (one involving Tom, played by David Morse) - and unnecessarily lengthen the film's running time.

Anger, guilt, remorse, love and redemption are the themes, but they are banged together and stewed until they become mush. The basic elements of the central story are dramatically solid, though: the long arm of fate intervenes in the lives of three women in a way that brings pain and remorse, but also resolution. The details are best revealed through the film itself, but the substantial part of the story is about overcoming anger and guilt with love and understanding.

The screenplay has Elizabeth make some decisions that defy understanding, though, and there is a serious flaw in the time jump that propels Karen and Paco into a relationship. Some licence is taken with Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones) who works at the adoption centre, in an attempt to link the characters, and this doesn't ring true. My final reservation is with Ed Shearmur's overly sentimental score.

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

(US, 2009)

CAST: Naomi Watts, Samuel L. Jackson, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, Carla Gallo, David Morse, Brittany Robertson, Marc Blucas, Lisa Gay Hamilton

PRODUCER: Lisa Maria Falcone, Julie Lynn

DIRECTOR: Rodrigo Garcia

SCRIPT: Rodrigo Garcia

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Xavier Perez Grober

EDITOR: Steven Weisberg

MUSIC: Ed Shearmur

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christopher Tandon

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes



© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019