Mother and Child (2009)

Drama, Romance
Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Alexandria M. Salling
A drama centered around three women: A 50-year-old woman, the daughter she gave up for adoption 35 years ago, and an African American woman looking to adopt a child of her own.
Though it occasionally veers into unnecessary melodrama, Mother and Child benefits from a stellar cast and writer-director Rodrigo Garcia's finely detailed, bravely unsentimental script.
  • Sony Pictures Classics Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 29 Apr 2010 Released:
  • 14 Dec 2010 DVD Release:
  • $1.1M Box office:

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Hollywood doesn't necessarily have to be formulaic and predictable5/10
Looking initially like your typical women audience's movie, "Mother and child" can almost be described as innovative, albeit in a subtle and minimalism fashion.

With a prologue of a teenage (barely, at 14) pregnancy that seems a rather favourite plot line these days, this movie follows three separate stories, of which the ultimate convergence of two can be detected almost immediately, while the third continues to remain at a distance until almost close to the end. But then right from the beginning, there is a shared theme: unwanted pregnancy and one of its common solutions – offer for adoption.

In the first one, middle-aged Annette Bening is spinster Karen who is struggling with a strained relationship with her invalid mother Nora. This is compounded by the fact that the hired Latin domestic help Sofia (Elpidia Carrillo) seems to have taken over her place as the recipient of her mother's affection and trust. An added aggravation is that Sofia needs to bring to work her otherwise unattended little daughter, another rival for Nora's attention. At the work front (Karen is a physiotherapist), the arrival of a gentle, caring co-worker Paco (Jimmy Smits) stirs up in her emotional life ripples that at times turn stormy. As events unfold, the fact that Karen turns out to be the pregnant teenager in the prologue is of course not a surprise. I won't go into some of the key events in this plot line. Suffices to say that after some soul-searching and self-discovery, Karen goes to Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones, Molly Star in "Ocean's Twelve") who arranged the adoption over 30 years ago, seeking help to establish contact with a daughter that she has never seen.

Naomi Watts is a mid-thirtyish, successful lawyer Elizabeth, stunningly beautiful, ruthlessly aggressive, moving from job to job (and town to town) every few years, unattached, valuing her independence above all else. She prefers to report to a man as women bosses "find her threatening". The latest such male boss is Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), recently bereaved, with grown children but still dashingly attractive. As a plot line, development of sexual relationship between the two is almost mandatory. Although with this man, Elizabeth seems to find the closest thing to love she has ever experienced, she is not going to give up her independence and customary sexual freedom with men. Right from her very first scene, the interview with Paul, it is made clear to the audience that Elizabeth is the daughter that Karen gave up for adoption over thirty years ago. The key development here is Elizabeth getting pregnant, which she thinks is impossible as she had this attended to in a cross-border medical visit (she was then 17, a minor). The miracle of carry another life in her sets Elizabeth's mind on looking for her biological mother. Yes, again. Sister Joanne comes into the picture.

The third plot line develops around Lucy (Kerry Washington, best remember by many as Della Bea Robinson in "Ray") who is unable to give her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) a child. The couple decides on adoption and with the help of Sister Joanne (obviously) goes through a search that turns out to be tempestuously traumatic. As mentioned, the convergence of this third plot line with the others is not obvious and does not come about until close to the end, with a plot twist.

While the above might appear to be a reasonably comprehensive synopsis, there is a lot of details that I have omitted, details of importance both to plot development and to the understanding of the protagonists. Similarly omitted are relatively minor characters such as the doctor that initially diagnosed Elizabeth's pregnancy (Amy Brenneman whom you should remember if you have seen "The Jane Austen Book Club") or the Karen's teenager lover now met in a chance re-encounter (David Morse). There are just too many for me to mention all here. One very remarkable thing is that each one of this large ensemble of characters perform the roles with such attention and dedication as if it were a lead role. The wonderful result is plain to be seen. The three leads are simply superb, all Oscar-worthy.
A top-notch and deeply moving film9/10
Mother and Child was the best movie I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival — and I saw 25.

Annette Bening is staggeringly brilliant in her role. She's a prickly and largely unappealing character, but the actress brings such humanity to the performance as a woman whose heart is slowly coming to life. Naomi Watts also brings nuance and humanity to a flawed and complex character. In a world where characters must always be "likeable," these performances feel like revelations.

Direction is consistently sensitive and intelligent. The script deftly moves between three worlds, with intersections that are surprising and never feel forced.

If Mother and Child doesn't garner wide distribution (and an Oscar nod for Ms. Bening) then this industry is deeply flawed.
Pitch Perfect & Sensitively Directed10/10
Caught this one at TIFF, and it was one of the best movies of the festival. Rodrigo Garcia directed "Nine Lives", which may be familiar to some audiences. That one was from 2005 and wove together a series of short vignettes. Garcia has a wonderful sensibility at portraying female characters in that one, and in "Mother & Child" he builds upon it even further as the movie centers around the theme of adoption and how it affects three adult women, played by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerri Washington.

I suppose this will get the "chick flick" label upon it's release, but for any lover of good dramas with characters you can sink your teeth into, that shouldn't matter, and besides, when did it become unfashionable for grown men to see movies with attractive female stars in them? There isn't a false moment or a scene that doesn't ring true, and I found myself so involved in the particularities of all the characters we meet that it no longer mattered to me what happened next, it was more interesting to get inside the shoes and take a walk inside the lives of these characters, so well fleshed out by all the stars here. So many big movies from America often feature adults behaving like children, and so it's ultimately refreshing and quite moving to follow the characters in "Mother & Child" who are going through very adult problems and acting like adults throughout, even if sometimes they fall or crack or are flawed.

I think Bening and Watts, playing two very complicated and difficult women, should be nominated for Oscars. This movie takes material that could have been dumbed down and made into a TV movie of the week, but instead Rodrigo Garcia elevates the film by really listening to his characters. A wonderful movie, not just for women, but for all adults who like good movies, and for all film-goers who especially like "hyperlink" movies, that is, movies that deal with a multitude of characters while letting each of them take the wheel of the car. Terrific.
Oustanding drama and colorblind casting10/10
Wow, where do I begin? Well, let me say that I went to the screening after hearing a friend rant and rave about how good it is. Being of the dude species I said to myself it's another chick-flick, but since homegirl couldn't stop talking about how good it was I decided to check it out anyway.

I'm thrilled to say that I am beyond happy that I did. This movie is the BOMB if you appreciate excellent acting, writing, directing and casting. I could go on and on but that's the bottom line.

Well, I do have one more thought. I just hope and pray that come Oscar time - because "Mother and Child" is being released now (Spring, 2010) - that it will somehow not be overlooked.

If you like excellent movie making of the drama variety, go see this film!
Garcia's Mothers9/10
Rodrigo Garcia, the writer, director of "Mother And Child" is the son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez no less but his universe is solidly set on a reality that doesn't shy away from poetry. A poetry emerging from an open female heart. Wanting and longing for things we lost, for thing we let out of our lives. Annette Bening is superb. Superb! "She's 38 today" Annette tells her failing mother, talking about the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was merely 14. Naomi Watts is the long lost daughter and she is an updated version of the mother she never knew. Naomi Watts confirms, once more, her extraordinary range. The film works on every level and we live the changes the characters suffer with a palpitating heart of recognition. The entire cast is outstanding with Samuel L Jacksong giving a performance that is a revelation in itself. Gentle, strong, moving, powerful and funny. A film I highly recommend.