Review…Mother and Child (***1/2)

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by Dwight Brown

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child…”

The gift of life is examined through the eyes of three women, three disparate souls who are haunted by their past, apprehensive about their future and living life today walking on emotional eggshells.  History binds them.  Destiny assures that though they don’t know each other now, someday they will. And, when they do, it will be a revelation.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is an over-ambitious, thirtysomething lawyer, new to a firm and eager to make her mark, sans friends or the support of workplace colleagues. Like a heat-seeking missile she targets the firm’s owner, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), an older widower with a weak libido. Karen (Annette Bening), a physical therapist, takes care of her elderly mother.  She too is unable to form bonds with just about anyone. Untrusting, terse, emotionally crippled she doesn’t know how to handle the advances of a Paco (Jimmy Smits), a well-meaning suitor.  Lucy (Kerry Washington) is determined to have a baby, but she cannot give birth herself. She is hell-bent on adopting, even if her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) and her mother (S. Epatha Merkerson) may be ambivalent.

Complications are poured on to the characters like a torrent of rain, adding levels of pain that can only be seen by looking deep in their eyes.  Elizabeth never knew her real mother or father.  Karen was forced by her mother to give up a child for adoption 37 years ago.  Lucy’s insecurities are boundless. The three ladies live within minutes of each other but are oblivious to each other’s presence. Credit writer/director Rodrigo Garcia for creating the characters, writing their lines, weaving them together and painting a picture that caresses forlorn mothers and children. His script, themed around adoption, has a lyrical feel. His direction of a multi-cultural, multi-generational, ensemble cast that revels in subtle performances that resonate long after the final credits, is thoughtful and sensitive.

Watt’s cold persona has such complexity and masks deep hurt.  Bening’s love-deprived Karen has a shield around her heart. Washington’s need to be a mother rings true.  And for once a story clearly designed around women’s needs does not scapegoat men.  Jackson’s austere turn as the father figure Elizabeth never had is his most supple performance to date.  Smits, as the angel of mercy assigned to pierce the armor of a crippled woman who is old beyond her age, is saintly.

The original music by Ed Shearmur, and classy cinematography by Xavier Pérez Grobet give the film the feel of an exquisite string quartet with pleading music that peaks at all the right times.

In the wrong hands, this film could have been a piece of grating melodrama. Under Garcia’s watchful eye, this is an ode to mothers and children who are lost but not forgotten.

Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at http://www.DwightBrownInk.com.

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