Rodrigo Garcia loves women. With a decade of filmmaking experience, his ability to create small, interwoven, deeply personal portraits of the fairer sex has been well demonstrated in works like "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" and "Nine Lives," but never before has his esteem for the role of wife, mother and daughter been more beautifully captured than in his latest offering, "Mother and Child."
The film begins in dreamy soft focus, the edges of the frame blurring the way a memory would over time, as a fourteen-year-old girl has sex for the very first time only to find herself pregnant, surrounded by other sequestered young mothers, in labor and then forced to give her child up for adoption. Jolting forward forty years to present day, we meet the first of three women, Karen (Annette Bening), the once young mother still tormented by giving up her child, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts). Rounding out the tale is Lucy (Kerry Washington), a woman incapable of bearing children, trying to adopt as her marriage withers.
Bening is crushing as a haunted woman trying to fortify herself by holding the world at arm's length until she meets Paco (Jimmy Smits), who embraces her despite her prickly exterior. Watts' cold calculation and deep seeded resentment boil under an alarmingly placid façade, making for a fascinating character study, especially when she slips into a romantic entanglement with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson), a man she introduces to her aghast neighbors as her father. Washington does slightly less with what she's given, vacillating between poised, sunny perfection and undone hysterics, but has moments of stunning truth, like when she can't make her baby stop crying so she breaks down herself.
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Delving into territory that has seen one too many passes on the Lifetime Movie Network, melodrama and schmaltz are easy pitfalls for a story about the ramifications of adoption. But Garcia braids his narrative so successfully, though the trajectory can be predictable, it's no less heartbreaking. Moving, captivating, beautifully shot and filled with stellar performances, "Mother and Child" is one of the best films so far in 2010.