out of Five
Running time: 125
Emotionally engaging, sharply written and powerfully acted drama that commendably resists some of the expected clichés.
What's it all about?
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (who made the upcoming Albert Nobbs) and set in present day Los Angeles, Mother and Child stars Annette Bening as Karen, an unmarried, emotionally awkward 50 year old physiotherapist who has never quite forgiven herself for giving up her baby daughter for adoption 35 years ago. Unbeknownst to Karen, her daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is now an ambitious lawyer, who has distanced herself from her adoptive family and has emotional problems of her own, seeking solace in deliberately destructive affairs, such as with her pregnant neighbour's husband (Marc Blucas) or her recently widowed boss (Samuel L. Jackson).
Meanwhile, Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones) - the woman at the Catholic adoption agency who placed Elizabeth – attempts to help Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband adopt a child and sets them up with 20 year old Ray (Shareeka Epps), but things don't go according to plan.
Naomi Watts is terrific as Elizabeth, delivering a powerful performance that, unusually for this sort of film, isn't afraid to be unsympathetic – Elizabeth is deliberately cruel and although we know what made her this way, the script refuses to sentimentalise her story by suggesting that she's actually a good person underneath. Bening is equally good as Karen and she has intriguing chemistry with Jimmy Smits (as Paco, her would-be suitor), while Washington more than holds her own in the less emotionally complex role as Lucy.
This is essentially what used to be known as a “women's picture” and as such, the men don't get much of a look-in, but Smits is both charming and sweet as the perpetually persistent Paco, while Samuel L. Jackson gets to display a side of his screen persona we don't usually see (it may suddenly occur to you, during the bedroom scenes, that you've never seen Samuel L. Jackson without his clothes on before).
The script is extremely well written, with several scenes playing out in unexpected or shocking ways (despite the TV-Movie-of-the-Week set-up, this isn't exactly a feel-good film) – Elizabeth's scenes with her lovers, for example are positively jaw-dropping. Similarly, the film commendably resists several of the expected clichés and is all the more emotionally powerful for doing so.
Mother and Child is an impressively directed, superbly written and powerfully emotional drama with terrific performances from Annette Bening and Naomi Watts. Recommended.