Mother and Child
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Each year, thousands of children are placed in adoptive homes, providing them with loving families and opportunities that they may not have otherwise had. But the experience often leaves those involved with unanswered questions. In Mother and Child, writer/director Rodrigo García explores the ways in which adoption touches the lives of three different women—one who gave a child up for adoption, one who was given up for adoption as a child, and one who’s hoping to adopt.

Karen (Annette Bening) got pregnant when she was just 14 years old. Though her mother encouraged her to give the baby up for adoption, not a day has gone by that Karen hasn’t thought about her daughter. It’s consumed her life—and now, 37 years later, she’s single and still living with her aging mother (Eileen Ryan).

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a fiercely independent lawyer who’s recently returned home to LA. Tough and distant, she’s perfectly happy to start casual relationships with everyone from her married neighbor to her boss, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson)—as long as she can have the upper hand. But she refuses to get emotionally involved.

After years of trying to get pregnant, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband, Joseph (David Ramsey), have decided to adopt. But in order to get the baby they want so desperately, they’ll have to get the approval of demanding young mother-to-be Ray (Shareeka Epps).

Mother and Child isn’t always an easy film to watch. In the beginning, in fact, it’s actually quite a challenge—because the characters are so unlikeable. Karen pushes people away, snapping at everyone from her mother’s caretaker to Paco (Jimmy Smits), the new guy at work who’s unbelievably persistent in his attempts to befriend her. She’s rude and cold and often downright hateful. So is Elizabeth, who plays with people’s lives as if she were a child playing with Barbie dolls. She’s demanding and manipulative and just plain mean. The way both characters treat other people will make you cringe.

But although the characters are often shockingly unlikeable, they’re fascinating nonetheless. They’re the kind of unlikeable characters that you’ll want to study—to figure out what makes them act out in the way they do, to find that human being beneath the prickly exterior. Fortunately, García takes the time to examine his characters. This isn’t a complex film, with the characters’ lives connecting in various ways, time and time again, just to prove how clever the writer can be. Instead, it’s a simple drama that gives the audience a chance to get to know the characters—to understand what they’re doing and why. Benning and Watts, meanwhile, give such honest, heartfelt performances that, the more you get to know their characters, the more you’ll care about them. You’ll want them to find the peace that’s been eluding them all these years.

As for Lucy…well, she often gets lost in between these two strong, dominant characters—and her story doesn’t get nearly as much attention. Still, she plays an important part in the story—one that I wish had been explored a bit more fully.

Each of the women in Mother and Child is struggling with something that’s missing from her life—a relationship, a connection. Of course, this does oversimplify, and even stereotype, the situation—after all, I’m aware of several adoptive relationships that have been perfectly successful and have produced kind, well-adjusted adults. But the film offers a moving look at each woman’s struggle—and the bond between mother and child.

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