Review: Mother & Child (Sundance)
PLOT: The story of three women; one is a middle aged nurse (Annette Bening), who, as a teenager, got pregnant and had to give her child up for adoption. The child grows up to be a high priced, emotionally unstable lawyer (Naomi Watts), who’s having an affair with her much older boss (Samuel L. Jackson). Their lives intersect with a young woman (Kerry Washington), who discovers that she’s unable to have children, and begins to look at the possibility of adoption.
REVIEW: MOTHER & CHILD is yet another film I caught at TIFF this year, that’s now making its way to Sundance. For me, one of the big shocks of TIFF was that this was not able to land a big distributor, as it features several high-power, potentially award-worthy performances from the high calibre cast, and three strong roles for women, in a year that was somewhat weak in that regard.
For Annette Bening especially, this is a tour de force. She plays a woman who’s spent her whole life punishing herself for a brief lapse in judgement she had as a teenager, carrying on imaginary conversations with the daughter she gave up years ago. After her cruel mother dies, Bening finally begins to come out of her shell somewhat, with the help of a kindly physiotherapist (Jimmy Smits), with whom she starts a tentative romance. I’d wager that if this film had come out this year, Bening would have generated a lot of buzz, as she probably hasn’t been this good since AMERICAN BEAUTY. I particularly liked the way her icy exterior starts to melt away once she falls in love with the likable Smits- who, in between this, and his turn in season three of DEXTER, is also really starting to impress me as a character actor.
As for Naomi Watts, she also has a hell of a role, and possibly a more challenging one, as she’s not always entirely sympathetic. Early in the film, she uses her sexuality to destroy a young couple, for no reason whatsoever, other than the fact that she can. To her, sex is like a sport- not to be used not as a means of intimacy, but to get what she wants- which also leads her to seduce her boss, played by Jackson.
Ah, Sam 'The Man ' , where do you find the time? I think I must have seen him in at least five movies last year, and, I gotta say, MOTHER & CHILD is the film he really brought his A-game to. All the Jackson clichés are absent here, and he NEVER hams it up, as he does in something like LAKEVIEW TERRACE. Despite it being a relatively small role, he hits all the right notes, and I liked the fact that in his relationship with Watts- she is the aggressor, and he is the passive, loving one, which is a nice change, as in other movies, she would be the naïve attorney suckered into the sack by the rich older boss. This film avoids that cliché.
The one person who will probably end up getting overlooked somewhat is Washington, who has a relatively bland role compared to the other actors. Her segment of the film feels a little too much like a JUNO retread for my tastes, and once her character becomes the focus, in the somewhat middling final thirty minutes, the film begins to fall apart somewhat, as it becomes just another, conventional family drama.
Of course, it's possible that the final act may have been reworked somewhat in the months since playing TIFF, and I hope that's the case, as the film deserves a stronger finish than it receives. Nonetheless, as it stands, MOTHER & CHILD is about ¾ of a great film. If you like good, stirring human drama, on the level of SIX FEET UNDER (the director, Rodrigo Garcia was one SIX FEET' go-to guys), or the late, great cable show, HUFF, this is for you.