The human experience is complex and fathomless. It’s often difficult to understand why people behave the way they do without first recognizing the events in their lives and the people who have affected them. Mother and Child is a film that explores this phenomenon in the most intimate of ways. While the convention of tying strangers together with an unlikely thread has been done before, it’s done exceedingly well here and never feels like a gimmick. Most importantly, however, the characters, events and relationships all feel amazingly real.
Mother and Child follows the lives of three women who have been affected by adoption. Karen (Annette Bening) became pregnant at 14 and gave up her child immediately after birth. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is Karen’s daughter – now grown up and a successful attorney who’s a bit of a loner. Finally, there’s Lucy (Kerry Washington) – a young wife who is unable to conceive and is exploring adopting a baby. Their unique situations have affected their lives in grave ways and in some cases have altered their personalities for the worse. Karen’s regret and obsession with Elizabeth have destroyed her ability to function normally in a social sense, pushing away a potential caller, Paco (Jimmy Smits). Elizabeth has been made cold and driven and pursues her goals with a kind of unattached single-mindedness. One of those goals is her boss, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). Lucy’s inability to conceive creates friction with her in-laws who always wanted their son to have a child related through blood. Though all three women are functionally strangers, the bond between a mother and child courses through their lives, effectively bonding all three women together as well.
Mother and Child is what audiences get when excellent writing is married to phenomenal acting. Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia has crafted well-developed characters that audiences can easily picture existing in real life. Not only are their personal lives exposed, but audiences also get to see how and where they work. In short, viewers will live with the characters for a time, embracing the important and mundane events. Furthermore, the story isn’t pretentious. It doesn’t try to make a larger statement about how one action can affect lives in drastic ways all around the world like a Butterfly Effect. Instead, Mother and Child is more intimate. Even though the main women’s lives barely intersect, the story and the women’s connection to each other become deeply personal. Finally, it’s refreshing to see some twists exist on a character level rather than on a plot level. Characters seem motivated to do one thing only to change their minds at unexpected and sometimes inconvenient times. It all just feels very normal and real.
The acting is also some of the best any viewer will find in a movie. The three women really bring the writing to life. Karen’s social and emotional dysfunction is absolutely palpable through Annette Bening’s instrument. Her ability to present two halves of the same character is a credit to her experience and preparation for the role. Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington also deliver fearless performances. Watts’ Elizabeth is icily collected, demonstrating her control as she seduces Paul. But when out of her element she unleashes the maelstrom of frustration that’s always just below her calm exterior. Washington’s Lucy, in contrast, is delightfully neurotic and constantly upbeat, but also hints at the fragile framework supporting her emotions. All of the portrayals are deep enough that audiences will not see the bottom of the characters in the film.
There are only a few nitpicky criticisms to be had of Mother and Child. The film can seem unnecessarily long, especially when characters get introduced sporadically throughout the movie, but don’t really add much. Also, for all the excellent writing, there are a few bits of dialogue and plot beats that feel forced, like with Elizabeth’s precocious, blind teenage neighbor and when a vital letter goes astray. Still, none of these observations will detract much from the viewing experience.
Mother and Child is the perfect film to experience on Mother’s Day. It features relationships and characters that are as real as film can present them. Prepare yourself for an engaging story and prepare yourself to be moved.