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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.
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.
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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Looking initially like your typical women audience's movie, "Mother and
child" can almost be described as innovative, albeit in a subtle and
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.
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.
"No I would not give you false hope/ On this strange and mournful day/
But the mother and child reunion /Is only a motion away, oh, little
darling of mine. /I can't for the life of me Remember a sadder day /I
know they say let it be /But it just don't work out that way /And the
course of a lifetime runs /Over and over again." Paul Simon
Everything in the moving Mother and Child moves inexorably and lyrically toward a reunion, most notably between mother Karen (Annette Bening) and daughter Elizabeth (Naomi Watts). The other women in the movie are either moving toward birthing or adopting or just being mothers to children who are in the motion.
Mother and Child is one of the best movies I have seen this year and like The Bad Seed and Secrets and Lies among the most powerful about adoption and the challenges of being a mother. At 14, Karen gave up Elizabeth for adoption. Elizabeth colors every moment of Karen's life until she must seek her out. So, too, Elizabeth's awareness of the mother she has never seen.
Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia masterfully moves among mothers and mothers to be (Elizabeth becomes pregnant in the course of the film) to create a mosaic of longing and love, not one situation resolved in a typically Hollywood way, but just as the fates allow for real people. Woven into the dramatic tensions of a mother trying to reconnect with a child, a new mother surrendering to the difficulties of motherhood, and older mothers trying to support their challenged daughters, Garcia has a love affair between attorney Elizabeth and her boss, Paul ( an astonishingly underplaying Samuel l. Jackson) and an unlikely liaison between crusty Karen and sensitive co-worker Paco (an overweight, lovable Jimmy Smitts). While all these shenanigans might smack of the soap opera, the pace of the film is so languid as to allow the reality of the proceedings to grasp on to the imagination for total acceptance.
The question of the causes and effects of adoption underpins the plot but with a proportion of pain that may be unreal. No matter, the results have an authentic feel, as does the superb acting.
No illusion, this mother and child reunion is only a motion picture away.
Rodrigo Garcia's 'Mother and Child' is one of the most moving poetic
films I have seen of recent times. Garcia's previous films comprised of
short vignettes and, on the surface, 'Mother and Child' appears that
way. Though the connection between Elizabeth's story and Karen's story
is apparent, the other subplots initially appear as though they have no
link to Karen and Elizabeth.
While there have been numerous movies of intertwined lives and stories, only few films have managed to have strong links and 'Mother and Child' is one of them and in addition the link between the stories is very significant and it's beautifully done. Moreover the twists and turns are superb. Rodrigo Garcia truly has created a treasure here. His eloquent writing breathes poetry as the story of his characters' lives unfold. Every single character, even the minor ones, are excellently fleshed out.
The execution is just as wonderful. The art direction, cinematography, editing and lighting is first rate. The soundtrack is simply amazing.
Each and every one of the actors does nothing short of fantastic and they deliver some of their finest performances. Annette Bening and Naomi Watts are spellbinding as the mother and daughter, two lost souls leading fractured lives until they gradually find purpose. Kerry Washington is superb as the wannabe mother desperate to have a child while being unaware of the challenges of motherhood. Jimmy Smits is terrific. Garcia's regulars, Elizabeth Peña, Elpidia Carillo and Amy Brenneman are very effective in brief roles and Cherry Jones is brilliant.
'Mother and Child' offers the viewer what they don't know they were looking for in a film. While it is no surprise how many gems are overlooked by people because of lack of recognition, it's a shame that this precious little film falls under this category. I couldn't recommend it more and it's become among my favourites.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of "Mother and Child" at the Toronto International Film Festival last night. This film is outstanding in every way, and proves once again (after "Nine Lives" and "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her") that Rodrigo Garcia is a master of the complex story about intersecting lives and relationships. This story is about three women: Karen (Annette Bening), Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), the daughter whom she gave up for adoption, and Lucy (Kerry Washington), a woman wanting to adopt a child of her own. The film weaves a tapestry of truths about the sometimes heartbreaking nature of mother-child relationships, and about the almost unshakable power of that bond. It has many poignant moments and is garnished with subtle humour. There is not a single false moment in the film. The cast is outstanding, without exception, but Bening, Watts, and Washington each deliver Oscar-worthy performances, and Garcia deserves the highest recognition as both screenwriter and director. Bravo!
Obviously orphanhood is a painful condition, as is lifelong separation
from one's child. Adoption is a momentous undertaking, potentially
beautiful for all concerned but fraught with risks of heartbreak. These
are worthy but dangerous subjects for a movie; and despite good
intentions and formidable actors, this one goes badly astray, though
it's not without powerful moments. 'Mother and Child' is one of those
manipulative stories about angst-ridden folks in LA whose lives turn
out to be intertwined. It's not surprising to find it was produced by
Alejandro González Iñárritu, though word from Cannes says his own
latest film, 'Biutiful,' is straightforward and linear. Iñárritu
himself directed the compellingly gritty and loosely connected
multi-strand movie 'Amores Perros,' then veered into pretentious
pseudo-complexity with more multiple-layered and polyglot storytelling
in '21 Grams' and 'Babel.' The popularity among ambitious filmmakers of
this genre can be partly traced to the success of the 2004 Paul Haggis
film 'Crash ' (also set in a tormented and multi-ethnic, multi-racial
Los Angeles), which won three Oscars, including Best Picture, pushing
out the more worthy, but less successfully button-pushing 'Brokeback
'Mother and Child' has a fine cast headed by Naomi Watts (who was in '21 Grams', and so is a veteran of orchestrated anomie), Annette Benning, and Samuel L. Jackson, and includes strong performances by Cherry Jones as a kindly nun, Kerry Washington as an eager young women bent on adoption, and Jimmy Smits as one of several implausibly saintly people. These stand by at the right moments, patiently awaiting their opportunity to make everything right again, for the moment when all the chess pieces fall into the right pattern and the game is over.
It's hard to describe the movie in detail because its success as suspenseful entertainment hinges on the way its three or four main plots come together. If we knew ahead of time how and why the various narratives were going to mesh the film would seem flat and hopelessly manipulative -- which, in fact, it is, manipulative anyway. It's not so much flat as cloyingly sentimental and at the same time, in certain moments early on, decidedly creepy. What I can tell you is that a better title for the early stages of the movie might be Neurotic Women. One theme is estrangement, another, adoption. Motherhood seems alternatively a pathology, and a condition hopelessly longed for and never achieved. The character played by Annette Benning is cruel, abrupt, almost pathological. So is Naomi Watts, who is also coldly manipulative. Some of the things that Naomi Watts' character does early on seem downright evil. Annette Bennings' character is so hostile and unpredictable it's hard to imagine her holding down a steady job; but plausibility is not the long suit of a screenplay bent on moving its plots and characters in neat patterns. These two people played by Benning and Watts, who represent a lonely mother and a lost child, are meant to hold our attention, but in order to justify our respect or interest they have to undergo sudden changes the scenes can't justify.
Jackson is an attorney who heads his own very successful law firm. In his first scene he is made to hire Watts, whom he declares impressive. The only trouble is that her record also clearly shows she is unstable, uncommitted, and isolated. The head of a viable firm would think twice before hiring such a person. Then in the days that follow she rapidly seduces him. To analyze the details would not only give away the surprises, but is also embarrassing, because so much is fudged to make the pieces fit together; and besides unconvincing events, there are dropped stitches as time goes on. Things get more obvious and ham-handed when a blind girl appears on the roof of Watts' latest apartment building (she is constantly on the move) for the sole purpose of having Meaningful Conversations. And yet despite all the nonsense, some of the scenes are heartrending, especially one involving Kerry Washington. When Benning turns sweet and lovely, her scenes seem pasted in from another picture. It would have been nice to watch her again in the lightweight, but utterly charming 'Being Julia,' one of her recent triumphs. She is always fine, but she does manic better than depressive. All these fine actors deserved better material. They're good, but they can't make this movie plausible or hide the writer-director's heavy, obtrusive hand.
In Los Angeles, the therapist Karen (Annette Bening) is a bitter woman
that nurses her terminal mother Nora with the support of her maid Tracy
(Carla Gallo) that has a little daughter. Karen misses her unknown
daughter that she gave for adoption thirty-seven years ago when she was
fourteen years old. Her new colleague Paco (Jimmy Smits), who is a
widower, is a gentle man and courts the unpleasant Karen.
The bakery owner Lucy (Kerry Washington) wishes desperately to adopt a child since she can not have a baby but her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) is not supportive to the idea.
The efficient lawyer Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), who is Karen's daughter, is an independent and promiscuous woman that does not want to have a baby and has tubal ligation. When she joins the law firm of Paul (Samuel Jackson), she has a love affair with him and becomes his mistress.
When Nora passes away, she feels a great need to know Elizabeth. She marries Paco and his daughter Maria, who is a religious woman, convinces her to seek out Elizabeth. When Lucy meets the single mother Ray (Shareeka Epps), who is a demanding woman, Joseph leaves her since he does not want to raise a foster child. When Elizabeth finds that she is pregnant, she quits her job in Paul's firm and works as secretary in a small company. Their lives will be entwined in very dramatic situations.
"Mother and Child" is a powerful drama about different views and feelings about motherhood. The therapist Karen has never overcome the loss of her daughter for adoption. The infertile baker Lucy wants to be a mother and her desire costs her marriage. The lawyer Elizabeth is traumatized by her childhood and is an independent woman that does not want to have a baby and ironically gets pregnant. In the end, there is redemption with the second chance for Karen. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Destinos Ligados" ("Connected Destinies")
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