Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rodrigo Garcia's 'Mother and Child'

You can read about Mother and Child, the new movie from director Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives), in the interview with Garcia that follows this brief appraisal. Mother and Child deals with mother/daughter issues from a variety of vantage points, focusing on three women played by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington.

Bening portrays an embittered woman who, as a teen-ager, was forced by her mother to give up a baby for adoption. Watts plays the adult that baby has become, a hard-boiled attorney. Washington portrays a successful young woman who's determined to adopt a baby.

So should you see Mother and Child? I'd lean positive with mild reservations, but add at least one note of unqualified praise: It's rare for a movie to be about the way its main characters cope with deep emotional wounds. Garcia hasn't shrunk from that challenge.

Here, then, a few observations on Mother and Child:

-- I sometimes find myself wondering whether Bening, an indisputably talented actress, isn't working a little too hard.

-- Garcia's minimalist visual approach seems to be intentional. He likes to strip his images of distraction so that story and character can emerge more forcefully. It's an admirable enough way to make a movie, but it tends to make Mother and Child feel slightly "airless," minimizing the illusion that the drama is unfolding amid the bustle and abundance of real life. Still, you'd be hard pressed to find a director who displays more respect for the work of his actors.

-- The Kerry Washington element of the story doesn't quite mesh with the rest, and seems to exist mostly to fulfill a function. I wondered whether Garcia didn't need a character to serve as a bridge between the worlds inhabited by the characters played by Bening and Watts.

-- I admire Garcia's refusal to vilify any of his characters. Almost everyone in the movie is trying to do the best he or she can. This is true even at the movie's margins. Cherry Jones, for example, portrays a nun at an adoption agency, a compassionate character who resists stereotyping.

-- Garcia is the son of acclaimed novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If the father's work is generally labeled as "magic realism,'' the son's work probably should be called "natural (or even ordinary) realism." Garcia works hard to keep the emotions in his movie at recognizable levels.

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