Movie review: 'Mother and Child' a compelling look at motherhood
Following in the grand storytelling footsteps of his father – Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez – filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia’s newest film, “Mother and Child,” presents a trio of separate stories that all eventually intertwine. The result is a gripping, compelling, moving drama that celebrates, warts and all, the joys and trying times of motherhood.
Yet despite all the credit due Garcia for his intricate plotting and surprise turns, it’s the superb cast led by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington that brings it alive.
The film begins with a brief, wordless sequence that covers a great deal of ground. There’s a kiss, a pregnancy, a baby and a very young mother.
Then there’s a jump in time of almost four decades.
Sad Karen (Bening) is chatting with her aging mom, glumly mentioning that someone’s 37th birthday is coming up.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth (Watts), a strong-minded loner who looks to be, oh, about 37, is interviewing for a lawyer position, where she casually tells the firm’s owner, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), that she was given up for adoption on the day of her birth.
Yes, it’s time for viewers to start putting the pieces together. But Garcia doesn’t make it a simple task. His film is generously layered with bits and pieces of people’s lives and stories and secrets.
Before any more time is spent on Karen or Elizabeth, we’re introduced to Lucy (Washington), who, along with her husband, Joseph (David Ramsey), is hoping to adopt a child of their own. This is something that Joseph would like to do, but Lucy appears desperate to do.
Let’s recap, and look a little deeper at these folks: Karen has never gotten over giving up the child she had when she was 14. Elizabeth is still angry at the mom she never knew for giving her up. Lucy, who knows nothing about being a mom, wants only to be a mom.
Garcia has certainly set a stage here, and it’s at this point that he lets those layers start piling on top of one another. It’s then that he and his actors really open up the characters and lay them bare.
Karen is a physical therapist who most likely suffers from loneliness and would not argue if someone labeled her as witchy. Elizabeth is completely sure of herself and is quite antisocial, but knows exactly how to use men – both for advancing her career and for her personal enjoyment. Lucy likes to hear herself talk, is sometimes embarrassed by something she’s said, and just doesn’t think things through.
Although Elizabeth has no idea she even has a mother, the film’s many complications get ratcheted up a notch by the relationships between Karen and her mother, and Lucy and hers. Karen’s mom is full of doom and gloom. She advises Karen not to set herself up for a fall when she becomes interested in Paco (Jimmy Smits), a new guy at work. Lucy’s mom is wise and thoughtful. She hopes Lucy will make the right decisions about adoption.
But this is a film filled with many people who are too wrapped up in themselves to think about how their choices will affect others. The script features people constantly making each other uncomfortable without even trying.
Fortunately, it’s tempered with small doses of comic relief, most of them coming from the almost teenage-like start-and-stop “romance” between Karen and Paco.
The film’s moods run from eroticism to frustration.
There’s even some great advice to be shared. One person asks another, “Do you always tell the truth?” That person answers in the affirmative and adds, “The truth is easier to remember.”
But the advice doesn’t stop there. Before some tragedy is played out, followed by everyone’s stories being neatly and cleverly and satisfactorily wrapped up, Garcia offers more life guidance: Be careful what you wish for, and don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
MOTHER AND CHILD (R for sexuality, language, brief nudity). Cast includes Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson. Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. 3.5 stars out of 4.