Monday, June 27, 2011

Mother and Child: Great drama - boring title.

Mother and Child (drama)
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson

Sony Pictures | 2009 | 127 min | Rated R | Released Dec 14, 2010

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

English, English SDH

Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 4.5/5

In the special features, director Rodrigo Garcia describes Mother and Child as “a drama for grown-ups” and he’s exactly right. The film is aimed at people who enjoy emotional drama, and examining the connections between people. While I was watching, I found myself comparing the structure of the story to 21 Grams and Babel, only to find that the director of those films, Alejandro González Iñárritu, was listed as an executive producer.

The film follows three story arcs and ultimately brings them together.

The most interesting character is Karen (Bening) who had a baby girl when she was 14 and gave her up for adoption. We see how she cares for her own mother and puts her life on hold because of her. But on some level, she wonders what happened to her own child. She mentions in the opening minutes of the film that her daughter’s 37th birthday is coming up.

We then see Elizabeth (Watts) applying for a job as a lawyer. She mentions that she was adopted and that her mother had her when she was 14. Her potential employer, Paul (Jackson), is impressed by her honesty and credentials and she gets the job.

A third woman, Lucy (Washington), is unable to have children of her own and is desperate to adopt. We see her and her husband interviewed by a nun to see whether they are a suitable couple.

The story shows how Karen and Elizabeth have been affected by never knowing each other:

Karen devotes her life to looking after her mother and working as a geriatric nurse. She has never been married. Her maid has a little girl and Karen resents having her show up at her house. It seems that she has distanced herself from children and resents people who have children in their lives. Her own loss was an event that she has never recovered from. She’s abrupt and sometimes rude to people and ensures that she never gets close enough to men to develop any romantic feelings. Everything she does is designed to protect herself from any potential pain in the future.

Elizabeth is fiercely independent. She seduces Paul and is the dominant partner when they have sex. She’s also happy to pursue married men and makes a move on one of her neighbors. As we learn more about her, it becomes clear how she’s been affected by never knowing her mother. I won’t reveal those details because it would ruin the story. She regularly moves around from one place to another and seems unwilling to be tied down. Although she has a lot of ambitious goals, they have to be achieved on her terms. She’s not a very nice person, but maybe it’s not completely her fault.

Lucy is willing to do almost anything to become a parent. She meets a young girl who wants to audition her to decide whether she’s a suitable foster parent for the child she plans to give up for adoption. Some of the questions disturb her, but she answers them honestly. Her husband doesn’t appear to be as enthusiastic about the process, but Lucy persists.

That’s the setup. I can’t give away anything else without ruining some of the surprises. All three women experience events which change them. Karen undergoes the biggest change and grows as a person throughout the story. 

I made a point of seeing the 10 Best Picture nominations last year and enjoyed them all, but I would rank Mother and Child above five of them. The acting is strong across the board and I’m a little surprised that Bening wasn’t nominated for this role rather than for her role in The Kids Are All Right. Mother and Child wouldn’t work without her performance. We see her accepting her situation, reacting when an event changes it, and ultimately transforming herself into a different person. She shows a vast range of emotions and, although I greatly admire American Beauty, this might be her strongest performance to date.

Watts, Washington, Jackson and Jimmy Smits also turn in good performances and I believed in everything they did. Those that I haven’t mentioned were great too.

I didn’t hear a word about the film during its limited theatrical run. The marketing just didn’t exist as far as I saw. I understand the reasoning and know that the audience for an emotional drama is small and growing smaller every year, but it pains me to see films like Mother and Child ignored. Will they eventually cease to be made so that we can have more sequels? Probably so. But I’ll try to do my part and highlight those worthy of attention.

Video Quality 4.5/5
Mother and Child was shot digitally, but it doesn’t detract from the overall look. Detail is strong and I didn’t detect any flaws. There are a few releases with better picture quality, but this is right up there and you won’t have any complaints.

Audio Quality 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does exactly what it is supposed to do. It’s a quiet story, driven by dialogue, but everything sounds clear. The ambient sounds add to the experience, but don’t expect your speakers to receive much of a workout. It’s just not that kind of movie.

Special Features 2.5/5

All of the additional content is presented in full HD.

Deleted Scenes (3:43) – Three short scenes that didn’t make it into the film.

Creating the Family Tree (13:39) – Director Rodrigo Garcia talks with some of the cast and crew and explains how the film came to be made.

Universally Connected (15:37) – An extension of the previous feature, but going into greater depth.

Trailer (2:10)



Mother and Child was one of the best dramas released in 2010. Anchored by a stellar performance from Bening, none of the acting disappoints. The title sounds boring and hardly anyone bothered seeing it, but fans of emotional drama shouldn’t miss this one. There are quite a few surprises and deeper connections between some of the characters that I didn't mention for fear of spoiling the film. If action is your thing, give this a miss.

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