Monday, 2 January 2012

Mother and Child

Rodrigo Garcia's fourth full feature is a mulit-narrative storyline you would expect from executive producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), in the form of a cross-generational, cross-cultural boundaries in Los Angeles which revolves around the lives of 3 women who are unexpectedly entwined based upon the roles of mother and child.

Featuring some amazing performances by Annette Bening and Naomi Watts, the film intially starts off in this ambivalent mood as all three women - add in Kerry Washington for the multi-racial point of view - fail to endear themselves to the audience let alone the men in the picture.

The men in question are playing by formidable men who are playing weaker male stereotypes and inversions of their screen personas; Paul (Samuel L. Jackson) and Paco (Jimmy Smits) are rather secondary to proceedings, yet in spite of this lack of narrative thrust the natural charisma of both actors do shine out of very one-dimensional characters.

The first half with Karen (Bening) playing the spinster and lonely old maid comes to the fore, whilst Elizabeth (Watts) the daughter that Karen gave up at birth plays a bunny-boiler with a real coldness and hostility; yet both females have to go through an abundant change in their identity and character. 

Karen loses her mother so can embrace the opportunity of romance with Paco instead of refusing it as she is indebted to the law of the mother, whilst Elizabeth surprisingly as a career woman yet one who has been abandoned at birth - does not want to do the same to her unborn child.  Watts reaction to the doctor who presumes she wants and will have an abortion is noteworthy.

Bening also starts to win us over by becoming a surrogate grandmother to her cleaner's daughter, allowing her the chance to play mum which she refused herself. 

Lucy (Washington) is planning to adopt with her husband, yet she has to alter her social circle.  Unfortunately, Lucy's strand (much like me mentioning her in this review) is somewhat lost in the shuffle - and yet Ms. Washington provides the most cathartic moment in the movie when she breaks down at the hospital following the birth of her surrogate child.

The theme of abortion in the film is neither for nor against, yet it is clear to point out that no-one wins and that everybody loses out at some point.

This is more a film about female roles in society and the social dynamic of the family group.  Karen becomes a Mother only after she stops being a child once her mother dies; Elizabeth is ready to become a Mother only when it is thrust upon her by an unplanned pregnancy; whilst Lucy is not fit to be a Mother and is only told to be one and act like one by her own Mother.

It can be interpreted as a Terms of Endearment without the bond that was in that film between Shirly MacLaine and Debra Winger - whereas that had larger than life male characters who desire women; in Mother and Child the men are both middle-aged and content to settle down.  Paul offers the world to Liz if she is pregnant with his child, and Paco is anointed an angel sent to comfort and support the spinster Karen.  Lucy's husband, Joseph (David Ramsey) disappears altogether at one point and Elizabeth's affair with her neighbour Steven (Marc Blucas) is swept away - so there are narrative flaws in a two hour film, albeit a two hour film that does not drag nor have you checking your watch after barely one, as with some Hollywood films.

The female empowerment aesthetic does begin to grate after a while, although the respect Garcia has for his character's is never in doubt and it is is exhiliarating to see an actor like Bening firing on all cylinders.

The plot can be described as hackneyed and telegraphed, yet a plot full of cliche is elevated by the 3 main women and notable support by Cherry Jones as Sister Joanne, a Nun who encounters each at various moments in the film.

Mother and Child is released nationwide in selected cinemas on January 6th by Verve Pictures and is a Mockingbird Pictures production in association with Everest Entertainment.

My thanks to Rabbit Publicity for allowing me to attend the preview screening.

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