Mother and Child
Sony Pictures // R // $28.95 // December 14, 2010
Review by Preston Jones | posted December 29, 2010
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie

The agony and the ecstasy of womanhood -- more specifically, motherhood -- pulses beneath every scene of Mother and Child. If the premise (a trio of women whose suddenly interlocked lives are explored via a fragmented narrative) feels familiar, it's because writer-director Rodrigo Garcia has plowed this field before. His screenplays for 2005's Nine Lives and 1999's Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her also toyed with time, the fairer sex and the messy, complicated lives all of us lead.

Although his gyno-centric films are frequently less than the sum of their parts, there's no denying that Garcia is one of the precious few filmmakers who can effortlessly tap into the female psyche, writing rich, complex parts, larded with pathos. Mother and Child is, on its surface, a drama about adoption and how it can affect families for generations. Three women make up the narrative spine of the film: Karen (Annette Bening), a nurse who gave up her child for adoption at the tender age of 14; Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), a hard-charging attorney who was given up for adoption and never knew her parents and Lucy (Kerry Washington), a woman tentatively meeting with potential birth mothers, in an effort to find a child to adopt.

It's not terribly difficult to see how the three strands play out, although Garcia does occasionally bend the temporally splintered story in a few mildly interesting directions. Mostly, he allows his three leads plenty of powerhouse scenes, with room to emote with all they've got. Karen is stand-offish with her co-workers and any interested suitors; Elizabeth wields sex like a cudgel, while refusing anyone to get close and Lucy, frequently wrung out by her struggles to adopt, rides the ragged edge of emotion. The trio of actresses is uniformly superb, Washington and Bening in particular; for all the Oscar buzz about Bening's turn in The Kids Are All Right, I'd argue she's far more effective in a similarly flavored role here. It's frustrating that Mother and Child doesn't hit harder than it does.

In the supplements, Garcia reveals that it took him a decade to finally get Mother and Child into filmable shape. It's a span of time keenly felt in the lugubrious pace, the inelegant dovetailing of the narrative strands and especially the denouement, which strains to reach the lyrical heights of an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu work, but instead, merely stumbles. There's a reach for poignancy that Mother and Child doesn't fully earn; the deadly slow conclusion undermines the arresting performances, another symptom of this overlong film that meanders to its conclusion. There's unquestionably a potent strain of dramatic material to be mined from the subject matter of adoptive children and regretful parents, but Mother and Child fails to effectively do so.

The DVD

The Video:

Mother and Child arrives on DVD with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. A deliberate, glacially paced film, this isn't a work that relies on flashy visuals. Instead, the elegantly composed, warmly lit images look as immaculate and crisp as one would expect for a recently created production. Nothing to complain about here.

The Audio:

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, much like the visual end of things, doesn't have much to show off, but rather, must simply convey dialogue with clarity and warmth. The Edward Shearmur score filters in nicely but unobtrusively; the frequently emotionally charged conversations are heard without any distortion or drop-out. Optional English subtitles are included.

The Extras:

The 13 minute, 39 second behind-the-scenes featurette "Creating the Family Tree" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) kicks things off, taking a general overview of writer-director Garcia's film and those who helped usher it onto the silver screen. The similarly-themed featurette "Universally Connected" (15 minutes, 38 seconds; presented in anamorphic widescreen) pivots away from the nuts and bolts of filmmaking to delve into the screenplay and character motivations, among other aspects. Three deleted scenes are presented in time-coded, anamorphic widescreen, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of three minutes, 47 seconds. The film's theatrical trailer, offered in anamorphic widescreen, rounds out the disc.

Final Thoughts:

The agony and the ecstasy of womanhood -- more specifically, motherhood -- pulses beneath every scene of Mother and Child. If the premise (a trio of women whose suddenly interlocked lives are explored via a fragmented narrative) feels familiar, it's because writer-director Rodrigo Garcia has plowed this field before. His screenplays for 2005's Nine Lives and 1999's Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her also toyed with time, the fairer sex and the messy, complicated lives all of us lead. There's a reach for poignancy that Mother and Child doesn't fully earn; the deadly slow conclusion undermines the arresting performances, another symptom of this overlong film that meanders to its conclusion. There's unquestionably a potent strain of dramatic material to be mined from the subject matter of adoptive children and regretful parents, but Mother and Child fails to effectively do so. Rent it.



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