Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mother and Child **

Director: Rodrigo García
Cast: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington
Samuel L. Jackson, David Morse, Shareeka Epps, Amy Brenneman
Marc Blucas, Jimmy Smits, Cherry Jones, Elpidia Carrillo
S. Epatha Merkerson, David Ramsey

There is something about Rodrigo García's vision of women that feels both spot-on and terribly, terribly cliché.
At times his characters achieve an intense melancholy and feel so lived-in that it's completely annoying how seconds later he forces them to deliver elaborate dialogues that make them sound like they've just arrived from Peyton Place.
In this case his screenplay centers on the relationships between mothers and children. We have Karen (Bening) a middle aged woman whose life was marked by the fact she gave up her daughter for adoption almost forty years before. This has made her cold and so afraid of people that she doesn't know how to respond to the attentions she receives from a new coworker (Smits).
Elizabeth (Watts), the daughter, is a successful attorney who uses sex as an asset and the fact that she was abandoned as an excuse to have no attachments. "I don't have expectations to fulfill" she tells her new boss (Jackson) before she begins an affair with him.
Then there's Lucy (Washington) a woman contemplating adoption given she can't have children of her own. This complicates her marriage since her husband (Ramsey) is reluctant to raising a stranger.
The film unfolds like something González Iñárritu would've made as we see how the three parallel stories eventually converge into one massive, tear-your-heart-out conclusion.
What fails in Mother and Child is that because of García's need to be poetic (usually highlighted by his elaborate camera moves and unrealistic dialogues) we never really think there's an emotional peak coming our way.
We are usually left wondering what will be the climax and this doesn't mean there's some sort of mystery going on, it's just that the director sometimes even forgets some of the stories he's telling.
There's a massive disconnect in Lucy's story especially as we see the other two women move forward in time and she's stuck in the same episode (that or either a freakishly long pregnancy from a mother to be played with charming confidence by Epps).
The movie is saved because of the performers. Bening provides beautifully nuanced work and it's a wonder to see her because the plot first tries to turn her into Charlotte Vale from Now, Voyager yet the actress finds a way to move past this extremely melodramatic mood and by the movie's end she has bloomed into a full blown human being.
Bening is stuck with some preposterous scenes where she writes letters to the daughter she has never met, any other actress would've turned these moments into exaggerated postcard moments, Bening though seems to know there's an awful amount of silliness to them and performs them like a duty, which gives her character a natural quality impossible to judge.
Watts is good but the film under uses her and turns her too much into a femme fatale (Elizabeth would've been played by Glenn Close in the 80's).
The film's revelation is actually Washington who is able to do so much with so little. Her character disappears for rather long amounts of time and we find ourselves wondering what is happening to her, more than anyone else in the film.
The manner in which she completely gives into Lucy is remarkable. She is able to embody sexuality, despair and intense warmth without recurring to cheap dramatic tricks. In a particular scene as she wonders how to deal with a baby's needs she screams "who the fuck does she think she is?" and this is perhaps the only moment in the entire film where we fully grasp what it's like to be a mother.
The pain, confusion and relentless patience that comes with motherhood isn't really easy to convey or to understand and Washington does this with effortless grace.
Mother and Child often feels rushed, despite García's languorous directing and it's fair to think that it might've worked better in serial form where we could've gotten to know these women more and understand some of their rash decisions.
Cinematic form turns it into an obnoxious condensed soap opera that never does justice to the larger themes it wants to study.


Brittani Burnham said...

That's a shame that it feels rushed. It's got a great cast.

Great review!

Jose said...

Thank you! Yes, the cast is unbelievable!

Robert said...

I think I liked this film more than you, haha, but I definitely agree that Kerry Washington was a standout. I kept waiting for her subplot to come back. To me, Bening was just marvelous. Her character feels so real and lived in despite the weird things she's given to do.

Watch Mother and Child said...

Impressive review. After reading I am curious to watch this amazing movie. I am very much thrilled just from the idea of the story that you have shared above and hope this will come up to my expectation. Thanks.