Mother and Child
Rodrigo García's Mother and Child is like a lover you hate yourself for wanting so much. As a showcase for a tremendously capable array of actors, Mother and Child refreshingly follows adults confronting and dealing with grown-up problems. That those issues all spur off of thorny family relations makes the movie's rhythmically threaded-together scenes believable, affecting, and at times overwhelmingly powerful. But the story that emerges sometimes hinges on moments of borderline preposterous synergy, which push the narrative toward the risible. Even so, those opportunistic plot points can't prevent many of Mother's moments from permanently branding themselves into the memory.
Credit that indelible impression entirely to the cast. García winds together the lives of three women as if they're free floating threads that, eventually, become a inter-generational, cross-cultural fabric. The prickly, emotionally withdrawn Karen (Annette Bening) had a daughter at 14, who she put up for adoption. That daughter is 37-year-old Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), who knows nothing about her birth mother and compensates by taking a vise-like controlling grip on her career as a lawyer and her relations with men. Wife and bakery owner Lucy (Kerry Washington) can't conceive, so she and her husband visit an Los Angeles orphanage presided over by Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones). Mother offers snapshots of these women's lives--Karen comically being courted by the gentle Paco (Jimmy Smits); Elizabeth mind-fucking her neighbor's husband (Marc Blucas) before carrying on an affair with him seemingly for kicks; Lucy getting grilled in Sister Joanne's office by a pregnant young woman (Shareeka Epps) vetting potential adoptive parents--throughout the course of its disarmingly compelling 125 minutes.
Through this patiently sculpted exploration of their daily dysfunctions, a portrait of the women and the people orbiting their lives emerges, which allows García to entangle them together by the movie's end. Just how they get interlocked veers into the coincidental and contrived, one of those machinations that feels like it could only happen in the make-believe land of movies. And it feels especially infelicitous given that so much of Mother feels poignantly observed rather than conveniently calculated.
That maudlin denouement doesn't sully the nuanced acting, though. Watts does the most acting here--a scene in a gynecologist's office features Watts magnificently rendering a woman barely bottling her rage--and Washington and Bening deliver subtle, searing performances. Bening's Karen often carries Mother's sensitive gravity in her guarded demeanor, bluntly honest comments, and crushing fragility, while Washington makes Lucy a woman with more inner strength than even she realizes she has. So even though Mother and Child itself won't burrow itself under the skin, its women do.