Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Mommy and Me

This summer is shaping up to be the season of the women’s film, be they frivolous (Sex and the City 2), thought-provoking (Please Give) or in the case of Rodrigo García’s Mother and Child, a fourteen-hanky ensemble drama. All three films overflow with fantastic performances, especially Catherine Keener in Please Give and Annette Bening and Naomi Watts in Mother and Child.

García’s films are female-driven (Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her) and he’s masterful at getting rich, raw and sometimes ugly performances from his actresses. Bening is Oscar-worthy as Karen, an ice cold physical therapist who cares for her aged mother and mourns the baby girl she gave up for adoption when she was only fourteen. Watts is equally chilly as a driven lawyer who uses sex as a weapon of control, and who, it turns out (no spoiler), is Bening’s long lost daughter. Cherry Jones (Doubt’s original Sister Aloysius) returns to the nunnery as a sister in charge of adoptions with connections to Bening, Watts and Kerry Washington, who plays an infertile wife desperate to adopt. García’s world is one in which redemption is possible, but fate is almost melodramatically cruel.


Bening is almost hard to watch at first; she is so tightly-wound you fear her snapping. When she meets Jimmy Smits, as a fellow therapist, and her walls fall, your heart blooms along with hers when she lets him in. Watts’ Elizabeth is as hard as her mother, refusing to let anyone close to her, until she’s faced with parenthood herself. Washington is heartbreaking as a woman who wants a baby, despite what life and other people have in store for her. In addition to Jones and Smits, Samuel L. Jackson and S. Epatha Merkeson give powerful, non-showy work that adds great depth to the drama.

If you don’t mind sobbing like a baby at the movies, take time to meet this Mother and Child.

UPDATE: Mother and Child is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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