Mother and Child
Cast: AnnetteBening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Shareeka Epps
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
They are talented and respected. They are famous. They draw much praise.
So is it possible for them to be overlooked, too? I would say yes.
In this way, Annette Bening and Naomi Watts are similar actresses from slightly different generations. Each could make an argument for being best among their age. Yet each one is overshadowed – Bening by the long legacy of Meryl Streep; Watts by Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet.
Mother and Child is an inviting showcase for these two talents.The new film from Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives) embroils them in a distant teenage adoption that severely wounds all sides.
Bening plays the once 14-year-old mother now creeping into a lonely middle age. She is an unusually prickly personality, alone, with only an aging mother on whom to lavish her care. At moments such as breaking up a coffee break with a co-worker, her blunt, unaware manner becomes darkly funny. As a man arrives in her life, she slowly comes to terms with the loss that has haunted her for so long.
Watts really shines here as the 37-year-old daughter, a gifted but itinerant lawyer who avoids other human beings. Her main contact with other people comes in the form of seduction and manipulation. When she uses the figurative expression “There are many ways to skin a cat,” you wonder how many she has literally tried. Yet through her iciness, Watts magnetically brings forth both distress and sympathy. This is her best performance since her best performances (Mulholland Dr., 21 Grams).
The story, shaped in the well-established three-story form of producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, offers Kerry Washington as a third mother, seeking to be matched with a child for adoption. She’s matched with a teen mother-to-be (Shareeka Epps) who is picky and brutally honest toward potential adopted mothers. While Washington holds her own, the storyline comes across as unnecessary and distracting to the main dynamic.
In Nine Lives, Garcia used long takes to study stresses on women. Here he continues that trend. The pull of motherhood, as well as its absence becomes a wounding experience for these women. Then as the story goes on and as love and motherhood re-enter their lives, it becomes the only tonic. While the film gets there through contrivance and coincidence, it is necessary and earned, by te care of the director and the talent of the women.