MOTHER AND CHILD

MOTHER AND CHILD

(director/writer: Rodrigo Garcia; cinematographer: Xavier Pérez Grobet; editor: Steven Weisberg; music: Edward Shearmur; cast: Naomi Watts (Elizabeth), Annette Bening (Karen), Kerry Washington (Lucy), Jimmy Smits (Paco), Shareeka Epps (Ray), Eileen Ryan (Nora), Cherry Jones (Sister Joanne), S. Epatha Merkerson (Ada, Lucy’s mother), Samuel L. Jackson (Paul), David Ramsey (Joseph), Simone Lopez (Cristi), Carla Gallo (Tracy), (Paul); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Julie Lynn/Lisa Maria Falcone; Sony Pictures Classics; 2009)
What’s spot-on is the performances of the three lead actresses, Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rodrigo Garcia (“Nine Lives”/”Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her”), the son ofthe writer Gabriel García Márquez, known for his work at HBO on the series “In Treatment,” is director-writer in this ensemble tearjearker sudser that weighs in on adoption and motherhood, offering obvious responses to real-life parental problems but playing it for all its emotional impact so it realistically connects as the way the modern world turns. Yet it still shoots itself in the foot, as it’s filled with so many heart-stopping dramatic moments and awkward subplots that after awhile one feels had by all the pic’s manufactured soft spots. What’s spot-on is the performances of the three lead actresses, Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington. They are allowed to shine in attention-grabbing performances, in a showcase film for female thespians who somehow manage to overcome all the soap opera melodramatics. Garcia, to his credit, is attentive to how women react to their womanhood and he smartly reflects on the multi-cultural dynamics of America’s ever changing landscape without making it a sticky subject.

Three disparate stranger female Los Angeles residents share a common thread in their lives and through a series of coincidences their profoundly touching stories interconnect in a conveniently pat finale (which seemed too smooth a landing for a pic that gives us such a bumpy ride).

Karen (Annette Bening) is an unbalanced, unhappy and troubled 51-year-old single physical therapist in a clinic, who is caring for her aging not well mother (Eileen Ryan) at home and battling with her inner demons. At 14 she gave up her baby daughter for adoption 37 years ago and has never searched for her, and has since been haunted by the daughter she never knew. Into Karen’s life comes the new clinic therapist (Jimmy Smits), a widower grandfather, whose persistence, sweetness and patience with her foul moods gives her a new life direction and encouragement to search for her daughter.

The 37-year-old single, icy, ambitious, high-powered corporation lawyer Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), whom we learn latter is Karen’s long-lost daughter, lands a new position with a big LA law firm. The adopted child is bright but like mom is an embittered loner (rejecting any notion of a “sisterhood”). She’s also restless, has a nasty disposition and is sexually permissive. Still haunted that her biological mum abandoned her at birth, Elizabeth takes it out on those around her. Her widower black boss (Samuel L. Jackson) knocks her up and is willing to do the right thing when he finds out, but she’s fated for martyrdom and dies at childbirth while her baby daughter survives and is given up for adoption.

Successful bakery owner Lucy (Kerry Washington) and hubby Joseph (David Ramsey) are a childless African-American couple, who are bothered that Lucy can’t conceive. The manic Lucy gets caught in the traps of navigating the adoption process and is crushed when an opportunity to adopt doesn’t work out because the 20-year-old single college student mom (Shareeka Epps) suddenly changes her mind and, to make matters worse, hubby suddenly says he wants his own child. Coincidences reign supreme in this pic, as Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones), the head of the adoption agency, acts as a link to bring the main character’s together. Through the efforts of the kindly Sister Joan, Lucy adopts Elizabeth’s daughter and in the end will hook up with a revitalized Karen for a friendly family reunion–so to speak.

The soap opera story line, the forced life lessons and all the clumsy subplots bring the film down with too many greeting card sentimentalities, but never down to the point it can’t be enjoyed for just the stellar theatrical performances and the powerful emotional clout it delivers to its real-life situations.

Mother and Child (2009)

REVIEWED ON 6/27/2010 GRADE: B-