If you are a regular moviegoer who can’t get enough of the daytime soaps, look no further than “Mother and Child.” It has enough soapy story lines to fill out at least three daytime series for a month.
Despite its “sophisticated” veneer and top-drawer cast, this weepfest written and directed by Rodrigo García doesn’t offer up a whole lot more to chew on than, say, “Guiding Light” or “The Young and the Restless.” Or, to be more exact, there’s all too much to chew on here – the film could more accurately be titled “The Young and the Very Young and the Old and the Middle-Aged and the Restless” – but I still left the theater feeling famished.
A plot synopsis of this film would resemble a flow chart. Bottom line: It’s about, you guessed it, mothers and their children. The overlapping narratives all drive home the same point – mothers need children, and (sort of) vice versa. Karen (Annette Bening), when she was 14, placed her baby up for adoption at the insistence of her now invalid mother (Eileen Ryan), with whom she lives unhappily. Karen writes unmailed letters to the daughter she never knew, but we in the audience have the privilege of observing that daughter all grown-up. Naomi Watts’s Elizabeth, who shucked off her adoptive parents years ago, is now a bitter, take-no-prisoners lawyer who also doubles as a man trap. To say she seduces her new boss Paul (Samuel L. Jackson) would be a gross understatement. She commandeers him.
Then there’s Lucy (Kerry Washington), who, unable to conceive, convinces her husband to adopt, even though his parents apparently believe their precious son’s future bloodlines should be strictly biological. You know things will not go well when Lucy, at the adoption agency, does all the talking while her mute husband sits there like a sack of flour.
There’s more to this, but you get the idea. García, who has made several other features and directed episodes of “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos,” is the son of novelist Gabriel García Márquez. He’s very big on lugubriousness. The film is being praised as a rare, powerfully femalecentric drama but, despite the preponderance of high-intensity women’s roles, it’s the men in this movie who seem to be doing all the heavy lifting. With the exception of Lucy’s cad hubbie, they all seem “understanding” to a fault. For example, big-hearted widower and family man Paul doesn’t seem to mind at all Elizabeth’s drill-sergeant worldview. Karen’s dogged paramour Paco (Jimmy Smits), a physical therapist in the clinic where she works, is so swoony that he might have stepped out of a romance novel. He brings her flowers, she hollers at him. She wanly apologizes. He proposes.
“Mother and Child” is clearly intended to be about the unbreakable bond, against all odds, between mothers and their children. It much more closely resembles a handbook for sensitive guys looking to win over tantrummy women desperate for love. Grade: C (Rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, and language.)