It works in the best sense of ensemble acting

Mother and Child

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson, Cherry Jones, Amy Brenneman - how sweet the sound. These hugely talented actors bring "Mother and Child" to life far beyond the fairly ordinary script that is its base. All of them use the script merely as a template for the characters they have imagined for themselves. It works in the best sense of ensemble acting.

            It sounds simple to say this is a movie about adoption from three different perspectives, which it is; but Director Rodrigo Garcia has chosen to give us those perspectives in a series of fragments from the life of each of the three main characters. No fragment is too long; each advances the story effectively and each adds a new layer to its main character.

            Karen (Annette Bening) is pregnant at 14 and gives her baby up for adoption. She thinks about that baby (who must now be 37) every day with deadening remorse. In her profession as a physical therapist, she can't relate in a confident or comforting way to her patients. She is curt to the point of rudeness, turning people away, including newly arrived Paco (Jimmy Smits) with a stunning harshness. The question that that hangs over her story: will she or won't she try to find her daughter?

            Elizabeth, the daughter given up for adoption, is bitter and pushes people away in much the same way as Karen does. She has built her successful legal career on fierce will and ambition. With no friendships in her life, she eats men alive - for an evening or a night - and then discards them. She is cold in her serial affairs and is seldom troubled by the upheavals she causes as she moves on to the next place, the next time, the next man in her life - all the while wondering why her mother has never found her.

            Lucy (Kerry Washington) is married to Joseph (David Ramsey), a couple we follow on Lucy's quest to adopt a baby. In the difficult, often wrenching process of being interviewed, Joseph is quiet. This is Lucy's search, Lucy's dream. She has the support of her mother who is also her partner in owning an upscale bakery.
 
            Annette Bening's Karen is not someone you'd want to meet - until she meets the wonderful Jimmy Smits who sees behind the crust. Bening brings the huge depth of her own nature to the role of this heartbreaking mother. Naomi Watts takes enormous acting risks in creating the witch of every wife's dreams. She takes a decidedly unpleasant role and makes it wildly more so, ignoring all the ordinary rules of behavior. Jackson, Smits, Jones and Brenneman give tremendous support to the ice maidens who make a conventional story into a tale of choices made, consequences endured, damage wreaked. We are absorbed by a big, generous, group of actors, all at the top of their games and reaching far to create compelling characters.

 


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