Theatrical Review: MOTHER AND CHILD
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits
Produced by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, MOTHER AND CHILD follows a similar three-part asynchronous narrative structure as Inarritu's global epic BABEL. The film centers around three women (Watts, Bening and Washington) and their lives as they experience various stages of motherhood. The film is really about adoption and how that process has effected each character.
Watt's character Elizabeth is a cutthroat lawyer who, after being abandoned, becomes cut off from the emotional world entirely and even goes so far as to have her tubes tied as a way to claim ownership on being given up. She is adrift and eventually plants her flag at a new firm that Samuel L. Jackson heads, and their relationship develops into something more serious which allows Elizabeth the chance to start investing in life again.
Kerry Washington plays Lucy who cannot have a child of her own. She and her husband are going through the awkward interview stage with prospective women willing to give away their child to the couple they feel is the right fit. They meet a headstrong teenager through the adoption agency that finally agrees to let Lucy and her husband adopt her child. This portion of MOTHER AND CHILD is very reminiscent of the 1989 drama IMMEDIATE FAMILY starring Glenn Close, James Woods and Mary Stuart Masterson; both show the reality of the adoption process and how a seemingly unnatural thing like giving your child up, gives way to a mother/child bond between a scared mother and the prospective family.
Lastly, Karen (Annette Bening) works in a hospital and lives with her disapproving mother who consumes Karen's life and undermines any joy she has. Karen gave a child up for adoption as a teenager and has always regretted that choice. Through a series of events, she begins to live again with the help of a doctor played by Jimmy Smits. Karen's character ultimately ends up benefiting the most and ends up being profoundly effected by the choices of Elizabeth and Lucy.
The characters weren’t so much likable as they were intriguing. Once the circumstances unfold and start to humanize each woman - especially Elizabeth and Karen - they aren't as interesting to watch because their character traits succumb to the motherly instinct. Although each character ends up happier, they were more compelling when they were damaged.
It's almost as if Elizabeth, Karen and Lucy are reduced to cliched women that can only truly be fulfilled when they are finally introduced to motherhood. Elizabeth is a career-oriented woman and could very well represent the perfectly justified stance of an increasing number of modern women who don't want kids and are content with that. The audience comes to know her in that way, and respects her for it. Karen could represent the older woman, filled with regret and hopelessness who gets a new lease on life. However, if that second chance never comes around, her character is more tragic and ultimately more interesting as a result. Lucy, throughout the entire movie, is a woman who has always had the dream of raising a child and her entire life has been crafted accordingly.
So with that in mind, what is MOTHER AND CHILD saying about these women and what is its commentary on the nature of motherhood? Admittedly, although each character reaches a kind of peace through becoming a mother, the gist of the film is not that a woman can only be happy once she's a mother, although that is certainly one way to see it. The real focus is on how one of these women becomes whole again because of how the choices and circumstances of each woman play out over the course of the film. In the first two acts of MOTHER AND CHILD, it's the characters that hold your interest. In the third act, it's the chain of events that link each of these characters together. Unfortunately, that shift diminishes the women in the film because it chooses to focus more on how their lives are intertwined, instead of staying focused on the life of each individual.