On the surface, “Mother and Child” is a straight-ahead chick flick that addresses women’s issues and concerns within the context of the not-really hot-button topic of adoption. All but one of the male characters is relegated to the background and, if in the care of less-competent hands or crafted as gooey, sentimental, made-for-TV mass consumption, it would be a total waste of time.
With a radically different approach and theme, but imparting essentially the same message, “Mother and Child” is everything and more the similar 2010 adoption documentary “Babies” wanted to be but wasn’t.
Even if you’re not a female, a mother, or have never been remotely involved in an adoption, and generally avoid art-house films, you should go out of your way to see this movie. It transcends gender, circumstance, taste, class, and even the ability to procreate. The movie is richly steeped in what can only be labeled as a deftly keen observation of humanity and should appeal in some way to any adult with a pulse or a three-digit IQ.
At Arm’s LengthMr. Garcia’s first and most notable move is in presenting the three leads as flawed individuals and, in the case of two of them, somewhat unlikeable. Karen (Annette Bening) plays a physical therapist who cares deeply for her patients and her aging mother, yet projects an air of prickly, defensive anger in her private life. Every time new co-worker Paco (Jimmy Smits) says a kind word or makes a gesture of friendship, she shoots him down in flames.
Much the same can be said about the extremely talented, pull-no-punches attorney Elizabeth (Naomi Watts). On her own since she was 17, she sees no value in establishing professional alliances, or even making friends, and has a cavalier, decidedly impersonal code of conduct regarding romance. Elizabeth uses sex as a weapon, and pity the heart of anyone standing opposite her on love’s battlefield.
No Small RolesExtracting career-high performances from the three leads might have been enough for most filmmakers, but Mr. Garcia is a strong believer in the old show-biz adage: There are no small parts, only small actors.
If there ever was a film that lent credence for the creation of a new Academy Award category for Best Ensemble Cast, it would be “Mother and Child.” Each character with a speaking role (roughly 50) and even a few that don’t utter a word, is perfectly cast. Actors who have been leads in other films (Samuel L. Jackson, David Morse, Amy Brenneman, Cherry Jones) happily remain on the sidelines most of the time, but flawlessly deliver the goods when called on to do so.
Mr. Garcia is careful to craft a movie that pulls double duty, theme-wise. While the film is certainly pro-life, it barely brings up religion (the depicted adoption clinic is located in a Catholic church, but that’s it). There are no fire and brimstone speeches, and none of the three leads is identified as being religious or even “spiritual.”
In taking a pro-life position, some might assume that it is “anti-pro-choice” by default, but that is not the case. The subject of abortion is never brought up which, in the eyes of some, discounts and ignores the practice altogether.
Deep, profound, and blisteringly true-to-life, “Mother and Child” will shatter your opinion (positive or negative) of what a chick flick is supposed to be, and will move you in ways you never thought possible.