Film Review: Mother & Child
mother and child - USA - **
Cast: Alexandria M Salling, Annette Bening, Cherry Jones, Connor Kramme, Eileen Ryan, Jimmy Smits, Kerry Washington, Naomi Watts, Samuel L Jackson
This is a contrived and self-conscious ensemble drama, set in contemporary LA, on the theme of adoption. Annette Bening plays Karen, a physical therapist, living with her querulous widowed mother, and still convulsed with guilt and regret at having given up a child after getting pregnant at 14. Naomi Watts is that child, Elizabeth, now a successful single lawyer displaying scripted hints that her adoptive status has messed her up: the ultra-focussed professionalism, the hint of ice-cold predatory sexiness. Kerry Washington plays Lucy, an African-American woman who has talked her husband into applying to adopt a baby, after years of fruitlessly "trying" to get pregnant. (Quaintly, fertility treatments are not discussed.) Inscrutable but kindly fate is to tie their destinies together in an ending which underscores what appears to be the movie's subliminal, needlingly insistent message - that no good can come of adoption, not really.
Bening's uptight Karen is an echo of her character in Sam Mendes's American Beauty: she is actually seen at one moment with her rose-pruning shears, and Edward Shearmur's music provides something similar to the ambient, spaced-out feel that Thomas Newman's score created for Mendes. She is a difficult person: we know this, because at one point she says: "I am a difficult person." The remark is addressed to her new colleague, Paco (Jimmy Smits), a co-worker who is besotted with her and whom we know she is meant to be with. The role of Karen is not a big stretch for Bening, but she plays it strongly, and the character is at least consistently written.
The same cannot be said for Watts's Elizabeth. She forms a relationship with her boss, Paul (Samuel L Jackson) but appears also to delight in seducing the guy in the neighbouring apartment and messing up his marriage - because she can. This dark side is, however, conveniently abandoned when Elizabeth's life is turned upside down midway through the film. She miraculously becomes a better person and that next-door couple (and the time-bomb Elizabeth leaves in their relationship) are utterly forgotten. She even, absurdly, forms a friendship with a blind girl: if this movie were a TV serial (and García has directed many) this would be the shark-jumping moment.
Drama of course thrives on calamity and disaster, but this oddly moralising film seems not to tolerate the idea that one woman could give up a child to another for adoption, and that all concerned could live with this arrangement reasonably happily. The producer is Alejandro González Iñárittu, who has directed other karmic-coincidence dramas. This one looks mannered and gimmicky.
By Peter Bradshaw