June 15, 2010

MOVIES: Mother and Child (Rodrigo Garcia, 2010)

Garcia's movies are generally large ensemble pieces with strong roles for women, and this one is no exception. We get three interwoven stories about adoption, and our starring actresses are Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, and Naomi Watts.

The connection between two of the three stories is made clear very quickly -- Watts is the daughter who Bening gave up for adoption. Washington's story -- she and her husband are trying to adopt a child -- isn't directly connected to the others until late in the movie, but there is enough thematic connection that the jumps from one story to another never feel disjointed or awkward.

All three lead actresses are superb, but Bening and Washington made the strongest impressions on me. Bening is a self-described "difficult person," prickly and anti-social, who finds it difficult to respond appropriately to gestures of friendship. (And the movie seems to take the "nature" side of the "nature vs. nurture" argument, as Watts' own personality is just as difficult and offputting as her birth mother's.) Washington is heartbreaking as she goes through the emotional turmoil of the adoption process, with its frequent U-turns from delighted to anticipation to devastating heartbreak.

As usual, Garcia is a master of casting. The key supporting roles here are played by Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smith; smaller roles are impeccably handled by such fine actors as David Morse, S. Epatha Merkerson, Cherry Jones, Shareeka Epps, LisaGay Hamilton, and Amy Brenneman. There's not a false note to be found in any of the performances, and the movie is like a masterclass in film acting.

I could have done without the "children make you a better person" meme that is so prevalent in American culture these days, but Garcia is one of my favorite directors, and this is another fine addition to his excellent body of work. (You should certainly check out his previous movie, Nine Lives, which I talked about here, and I really need to go back and take another look at Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her.)

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