The sensitive touch of Rodrigo Garca—a talented HBO house director (In Treatment, Carnivle) with an extremely spotty feature career (Nine Lives, Passengers)—keeps this gimmicky ensemble melodrama out of the bullshit-detector red zone. As in most of his films, women take center stage: Middle-aged health-care worker Karen (Bening) is the biological mother of icy power attorney Elizabeth (Watts), whom she gave up for adoption immediately after birth. In a seemingly unrelated thread, the slightly manic baker Lucy (Washington) prepares to adopt a child of her own, since she’s been unable to conceive. All three live in Los Angeles, but none of them have ever met. Uh-oh.
Much as Nine Lives hinged on an aesthetic stunt (each sequence was filmed in a single shot), Mother and Child borrows the “we’re-all-connected” converging narrative patented by executive producer Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu (Babel). It remains an annoying, faux-profound structural tic—at this point, there are no more returns to diminish—though this doesn’t negate the stellar performances Garca gets from his central female trio.
Watts is the most immediately attention-grabbing, with the story dictating that Elizabeth move from legal-eagle whore of Babylon (a terrific Samuel L. Jackson plays her willing prey) to martyred, maternal saint. A believably unbalanced Bening scores the movie’s true coup: Karen’s revitalizing relationship with a sweetly persistent coworker (Jimmy Smits) is a rare example of Hollywood doing right by midlife romance. And Washington, because she’s the least caught up in the twisted-pretzel plotting, gives Lucy’s every gesture the hallmark of truth. Everything else, sad to say, is just Hallmark.—Keith Uhlich
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