Saturday, May 15, 2010


About 2/3 of the way into watching Rodrigo García's Mother and Child, I thought, "Man, this movie has the exact same tone as Bella (another film about adoption)." I wondered if the films were made by the same people, but it ended up being just a coincidence.

Annette Bening stars as Karen, a middle-aged woman living with her elderly mother, and continuing to struggle with the pain of having given up her daughter for adoption when she was 14. Naomi Watts plays Elizabeth, a highly-motivated attorney who, when she finds herself pregnant, is facing a situation she did not seek out, for the first time in her life. Meanwhile, Lucy is a woman nervously approaching the process of adopting a baby of her own.

I kind of want to give you a play-by-play of this movie, because García does such a skillful job of manufacturing and interweaving circumstances and characters in such a way to make his stories feel more like fables than traditional movies, and it is a very interesting thing to watch. His 2000 mosaic film Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her uses the same kind of storytelling, and is another well-made film about women.*

Karen and Elizabeth are well-acted characters that seem one-sided when we meet them, but as the story progresses, we learn how similar they are to each other, even as it is evident that different life experiences have molded each woman uniquely. Lucy's story is interesting, culturally, at is it rare to see a portrayal of a black family seeking to adopt. She is beautifully played by Kerry Washington, and her interactions with Ray, the young woman considering her as a candidate to adopt her baby, are extremely captivating.

This is a film about being a mother, and the many things that can entail. It also explores the relationships that daughters have with their mothers, whether they're present or not. By the end of the movie, I did feel like I knew my emotions had been manipulated a bit unfairly, but the overall fable mood alleviates the potential disappointment.

Incidentally, Naomi Watts was actually pregnant with her second child during filming, and it was surprising how affecting the actual image of her son moving inside of her was, after countless obvious prosthetics we've been shown in film and television.

Mother and Child also has supporting performances by Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Shareeka Epps.

* A lot of people asked this question after Kathryn Bigelow was receiving such startled acclaim for directing "male" movies as Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker, and The Hurt Locker. Why was it such a big deal to people that a woman could be so good at creating media "for men," but it goes largely unremarked upon when many men make their careers creating media "for women" (Garry Marshall and Ken Kwapis, for example). With the recent controversy over Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh and his remarks about gay actors being universally unconvincing in their portrayals of straight characters, I think there is an obvious link. When the general societal undercurrent holds that women are lesser than men, and homosexuals lesser than heterosexuals, there is a terrible understanding that it's easy for people of the "greater" sex/orientation to "lower themselves" to the level of pandering to women, or playing gay characters. But what an effort it must take for women to reach a male audience, or for homosexuals to cover up their "inclination"!

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