David Ramsey and Kerry Washington
There is great longing for connecting with a child by a mother who gave up her daughter for adoption as the infant was born. There's also the barren young wife who is frantic to adopt a child. The other is a single, professional woman who had her fallopian tubes tied at 17 mostly because her mother dumped her at birth, too.
That's Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), an independent attorney who has a life without attachment, except when she wants it...and that's usually with an anxiously attracted guy whom she handily manipulates and treats like dirt.
Lucy (Kerry Washington) is the married woman unable to conceive. Her need to have and raise a child approaches the pathological. Lucy and her husband, good guy that he is, walk a social treadmill to find a baby while being advised by Lucy's mother, played by S. Epatha Merkerson.
Karen (Annette Bening) is at the threshold of spinsterhood, caring for her infirm mother, Nora (Eileen Ryan, Sean Penn's real-life mother). Karen has no real connection with Nora. It's Karen who gave up her infant for adoption, as she was only 14 at the time. The father was also just 14.
Nora's part time caregiver, Sofia (Elpidia Carillo), comes to her job at Karen's and Nora's home with her little girl in tow. Karen doesn't like the little girl, but Nora does and also has a close relationship with Sofia, both going mostly unnoticed by Karen.
Karen, Lucy and Elizabeth are overtly confident, negative and very pushy. No parental love or real connection can make a gal seem insensitive and pretty damned testy---and guys as well.
The written voice of each of these women seems to come from the same place or person. That would be a man: Rodrigo García, who also directed "Mother and Child." Señor García is the son of Columbian literary figure and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel García Márquez ("One Hundred Years of Solitude," "Love in the Time of Cholera," the latter for which I have, here, an archived review of the film taken from the Márquez novel).
The men in the lives of these troubled women are Paco (Jimmy Smits) with Karen; Joseph (David Ramsey), Lucy's spouse and Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), who is Elizabeth's law firm boss and, finally, her lover.
A love scene between Watts and Jackson, though not physically specific, is a very realistic and compelling moment in "Mother and Child." It is steamy, yes, but even more that just passionate. Rated "R."
Male characters are secondary, although essential, obviously. Yes, "Mother and Child" is another chick flick which doesn't deserve to be labeled as such.
A side curiosity to this mix of characters is that only one couple is of the same race: Lucy and Joseph, who are African-American. But like many contemporary films, racial differences play no part in the struggles and conflicts portrayed. It's a grownup, adult film for those who look at such social diversity as no big deal. It makes the film mature. Here's to Rodrigo García.
Its maturity rivals HBO's, "In Treatment," which was developed by García and starred Gabriel Byrne.
Another striking thing, as I watched "Mother and Child," was flashing on three other films of recent years that I would call significant, two of them winning Best Picture Oscars. They're "American Beauty and "Crash." The other is the 2006 film, "Babel." It may be coincidental that "Babel" was directed by the executive producer of "Mother and Child," Alejandro González Iñárritu.
"Mother and Child" is sequential, yet has three discrete threads for Karen, Lucy and Elizabeth. It's pretty obvious the threads are going to converge as the film comes more toward closure. What's interesting is that some parts of the conclusion are not telegraphed and may tend to cause a jaw or two to drop in the theater.
Kudos should go to Naomi Watts, Annette Bening and, especially, Samuel L. Jackson. I can't remember seeing him do a role like this. He's really quite an actor. And we see him doing just about everything, even movies that have snakes on planes.
Other familiar people are in the cast, mostly who've spent time on the small screen, as well: Amy Brenneman, Elizabeth Peña, Lisa Gay Harden, David Morse and Carla Gallo who has some special scenes (most with Watts) playing a blind girl named Tracy.
"Mother and Child" is restrained. Not dull. Not slow. Edward Schearmur's music is appropriately placed and economical. It has some of the same harmonic sense made in Thomas Newman's film scores. It fits and embellishes, and doesn't get in the way.
One scene that looked to be a bit overboard is an elongated tantrum Lucy throws in a hospital hallway. It's not essential for what you need to know and understand to make the film work.
García also seems to rush the movie as it nears the end. That makes "Mother and Child" lose some of its clear communication and almost languid, yet inexorable pace toward apparent changes that are to evolve in the principal characters.
Wont as I am to ride herd on a film to its last frame, I...uh...heard another song and voice during the credit close that hummed in my head for several hours after seeing "Mother and Child." The song is called "Little One," and it's sung by a young Los Angeles woman named Lucy Schwartz. Here's the video. Ms. Schwartz looks to be about twenty years old...the way she writes songs and sings them, though, tells me her soul must be at least a thousand.
Rodrigo García's "Mother and Child" reminds us there is still tenderness in the world. And for that, we should thank him.
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