By James Madden.
Writer/Director Rodrigo Garcia brings us an emotional and poignant roller coaster with his latest film Mother and Child. An ensemble piece, three separate and yet connected stories interweave through two hours of hard hitting drama. And boy does it hit hard!
The son of prolific writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Garcia shows the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. However, to those who are familiar with Garcia’s already accomplished career, the writer/director hits another one out of the park. Directing the episodes of HBO’s Big Love, Carnivale, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos, and adapting the Israeli television serial Be Tipul into HBO’s In Treatment starring Gabriel Byrne, and writing/directing Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her.
Annette Bening (Running with Scissors, American Beauty) plays Karen, a middle aged woman who became pregnant at 14. Adoption was the only option for Karen, and as a result her past shadows over her daily life. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive, 21 Grams) plays Karen’s child Elizabeth, a 38-year-old career driven lawyer, who lives her life with the strongest sense of independence. Kerry Washington (Ray, The Last King of Scotland) plays Lucy, an infertile woman exploring adoption with her somewhat hesitant husband.
Complicated is a word that does not do justice to the characteristics of the leading characters. Bening and Watts especially bring a particular hardness to their characters during the first half of the film, and it is this hardness that I loved. These are bruised, damaged women whom act with irrational, angry emotions and feelings. However, this hardness does evolve into more well rounded characters.
The leading women in this film are awe inspiring. The very talent Bening creates a multi faceted woman in Karen. Bathed heavily in anguish from her past, Karen is very harsh, quickly deflecting, and deeply solemn. Her character arc is something of an actor dreams, and Bening develops this character with skill, warmth and true humanity.
Watts is a delightful enigma as Elizabeth. A character that is independent, controlling, conniving and similar to Karen, very damaged. The adoption is what we suspect is at the heart of hardness, as is with Karen. The most difficult role to play, Watts delivers such an accomplished performance as Elizabeth. Few actors can make you truly feel for someone so hard, but Watts pulls it off.
Seemingly unconnected (but of course connected in a surprising twist), Kerry Washington plays the reproductively challenged Lucy. Washington gives such an impassioned performance that truly shows off why she is one of the most sought after talents in Hollywood today. Lucy’s attempts to become a mother provide a much needed balance to the emotionally draining after effects of adoption.
Similarities can be drawn to The Hours, The Amores Perros/21 Grams/Babel trilogy, and other ensemble/vignette pieces by Robert Altman, however, Garcia has managed to continue develop such strong characters that we have been previewed to in his other work.
Accompanied with terrific supporting performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, S. Epatha Merkerson, Amy Brenneman, Shareeka Epps, David Ramsey and Cherry Jones, Mother and Child is a must see!