Mother and Child


Mother and Child

Nobody beats Samuel L. Jackson in a staredown. Nobody.

(2009) Drama (Sony Classics) Naomi Watts, Annette Benning, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, David Morse, Marc Blucas, Shareeka Epps, Lisa Gay Hamilton, S. Epetha Merkerson, David Ramsey, Eileen Ryan, Cherry Jones, Amy Brenneman, Tatyana Ali, Elizabeth Pena. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

 

Motherhood has a unique place in the female psyche. It may well be the driving force; the urge to procreate and then care and nurture for that child. Sometimes it’s not always possible for those instincts to be indulged the way you want to.

Karen (Benning) is an emotionally brittle caregiver in every sense of the word – by day she works as a physical therapist, by night she returns home to care for her elderly mother (Ryan). Karen is not the easiest person to get along with; she tends to keep people at arm’s length. She’d had a baby when she was 14 and was forced to give her up for adoption. That has haunted Karen’s entire life; she won’t let anyone in, not even sweet-natured co-worker Paco (Smits), although his patience seems to be limitless.

Elizabeth (Watts) is a driven attorney who never seems satisfied with anything in life. She is hard, occasionally crude and tends to keep people at arm’s length. She has started work in a new firm, and in order to cement her position – and possibly even improve it – she has initiated an affair with her boss, Paul (Jackson). It is a relationship all about sex, power and ambition. Elizabeth was adopted and seems to have no desire at all to find out who her birth mother is (although I’m sure you can guess). However, her world turns upside down when she discovers she’s pregnant.

Lucy (Washington) is unable to have children. She and her husband Joseph (Ramsey) have elected to adopt and are looking for a baby to call their own. The agency that Lucy is going through, whose representative is Sister Joanne (Jones), sends along several expectant mothers who are giving up their babies for adoption. Ray (Epps) seems to be a suitable candidate, but she is understandably picky about what kind of home her baby will be placed in and has enough attitude to choke an elephant.

All three of these women’s lives are entwined in ways that are both visible and invisible. Their stories may be told separately, but they are all a part of the same story, one that will not end as expected for all of them.

This is a bit different than most ensemble anthology dramas in that the story really is a single story although told from the viewpoints of three different characters. Much of the story is telegraphed – anyone who doesn’t figure out that Elizabeth is Karen’s biological daughter is probably not smarter than a fifth grader. However, it is saved by some pretty good performances.

Benning, who would get Oscar consideration for her performance in The Kids are All Right that year showed why she is as underrated an actress as there is in America. It is difficult at best to play an emotionally closed-off character and still make them sympathetic, but Benning does it. In some ways this was a tougher role than the one that got her all the acclaim that year but because the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the other one she probably didn’t get the scrutiny here.

Watts also has a similarly difficult job and while she doesn’t pull it off quite as successfully as Benning does nevertheless acquits herself well and shows why she is also a formidable actress given the right material. Sometimes she flies under the radar, mainly because her films aren’t always as buzz-worthy but time after time she delivers film-carrying performances and while she isn’t the household name she deserves to be, she is still well-respected in Hollywood as one of the top actresses working today and this movie illustrates why.

The ending smacks a little bit of movie of the week schmaltz and the story relies way too much on coincidence. However one has to give the filmmakers credit for putting together a movie that is female-centric and tackles the effects of adoption on the birth mother, the child given up for adoption and the person doing the adoption in a somewhat creative manner. While other critics liked the movie a little more than I did (and I can understand why, truly), the contrived nature of the plot held the film back from a better rating. Had the three stories been a little bit more independent of each other I think it would have made for a better overall film. Not all stories have to be wrapped up with a neat little bow.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly potent examination of women and their maternal instincts. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending strives for grace and lyricism but falls short.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sex and nudity, along with a decent dose of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Naomi Watts was pregnant with her son Samuel during filming; when you see her baby moving in utero during one scene, that’s actually Samuel.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.0M on a $7M production budget; the movie wasn’t a financial success from a box office perspective.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Motherhood

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls

New Releases for the Week of June 25, 2010


June 25, 2010

There is no "I" in team, but there are two of them in "idiot."

GROWN UPS

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Maria Bello, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph. Directed by Dennis Dugan

Five childhood friends, all members of a championship youth basketball team, gather some years later to honor the passing of their former coach. Now married and with kids of their own, they get together at the same lake house on the Fourth of July weekend where they celebrated their championship win years earlier. However, getting older doesn’t necessarily mean growing up and the bickering and childishness that plagued them years earlier begins to resurface.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity)

Knight and Day

(20th Century Fox) Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis. It’s hard enough to nurture a romance in this modern world of social networking, dating websites and instant gratification. It’s doubly tough when you’re being chased around the world by professional assassins, attempting to uncover a deadly secret and you’re not sure if the man accompanying you is a heroic spy, a traitor to his country or just plain whacko.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language)

Mother and Child

(Sony Classics) Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson. Three intertwining tales involve three women whose lives have all been touched in one way or another by adoption; one woman who gave her child up for adoption year earlier, another who was herself adopted and a third looking to adopt a child for herself. This first opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 7.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for sexuality, brief nudity and language)

Solitary Man

(Anchor Bay) Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker. A New Yorker who once owned a successful car dealership is on the verge of a comeback. His out-of-control libido and bad personal choices helped derail his career and end his marriage. While he still hangs out with his daughter and grandson, the latter who adores him without question, she break off the relationship when she discovers dear old dad is seeing one of her friends romantically. Can a solitary man pull off the comeback of the century, or will the demons that caused his downfall in the first place rear their ugly heads? This first opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 21.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)