In Rodrigo Garcia’s ‘Mother and Child’ we are introduced to three women who are having baby issues. There’s Karen (Annette Bening) who is a fifty year old bitter mean shrew, mainly because her mother (Eileen Ryan) forced her to give up her illegitimate child 37 years ago. Karen writes this child letters, buys this child gifts and celebrates her birthday even though she has no idea where she is or even if she’s alive or dead.
This child is very much alive and her name is Elizabeth (Naomi Watts). Elizabeth is a highly successful lawyer, driven and dedicated but not exactly loyal. This is a woman who knows what she wants and she goes out and gets what she wants. At this moment in time she wants the boss at her new firm, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). Why exactly she wants Paul is up for debate because it certainly isn’t to further her career. Regardless Elizabeth will become pregnant. Paul might be the father. Elizabeth tends to get around a little bit.
Our third woman is Lucy (Kerry Washington). Sadly Lucy is barren so she and her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) have elected to adopt which leads Lucy to Ray (Shareeka Epps) who is auditioning parents to provide a good home for her forthcoming child. Lucy’s mom Ada (S. Epatha Merkerson) isn’t so sure about this whole adoption thing and Lucy’s in-laws think that their son should find a woman who can give him a child that carries their bloodline.
Three women, all damaged almost beyond repair… except for maybe Lucy but her damage is coming too… while we wonder how are the three lives of these three women going to intersect.
With ‘Mother and Child’ Rodrigo Garcia has crafted a film that is so filled with discussion elements that the intellectuals amongst us could probably go down to the coffee shop and kick this film around for days on end. For instance all of the men in this movie are completely emasculated, weak-minded and easily controlled. Paul is a virtual slave to Elizabeth’s poo, but then so is Elizabeth’s married neighbor (Marc
Blucas) with the pregnant wife who also finds he can’t stay away. Lucy’s husband Joseph is easily controlled by his wife, with Lucy’s control only taking a back seat to the master control that is Joseph’s mother. Eventually Karen will meet and marry Paco (Jimmy Smits) but yet we are forced to wonder what in the world Paco could possibly see in Karen outside of the fact that Paco enjoys being routinely controlled and emasculated. There was a picnic scene where Paco’s adult daughter was reciting to Karen personal information that Paco had told his daughter about Karen. Paco asked his daughter to be quiet but he had no control over her either and on she went. But while sitting at this coffee shop, the intellectuals and me, we want to know what the writer was attempting to convey to us. On the surface it says to me that I’m being told that men are largely a bunch of spineless bitches easily controlled by the power of the vagina, and not that I’m disagreeing with that completely but the other intellectuals at the table may have another opinion.
Or we could address the writer / director’s issues with religion while waiting for the foam to settle on that latte mocha mint. Lucy believes that we come from the dirt and we go right back to the dirt. Her husband is God fearing but we’ve already determined him to be weak, which is the only reason we can imagine why a God-fearing Christian would marry an atheist. The Power of the Vagina rears its head again. Paco also doubts the existence of a god and it so happened that this discussion was probably the most forceful discussion offered by a male character in this movie. After watching some of the events transpire in this film, if God is real… to paraphrase Paco, he would have some explaining to do. The intellectuals believe the director has some deep rooted issues with religion.
But the best discussion should be surrounding Naomi Watts and her character of Elizabeth. Why did Elizabeth seduce Paul? To prove that she could? That can’t be it because how hard can it be for a good looking, hyper aggressive woman to seduce and old lonely man? Why did Elizabeth seduce the husband? Because this couple represented everything that she never had? I could tell you a story about the whole foreign pair of panties in the drawer… an old trick… but this would not be the time for that story. Why does Elizabeth run from everything? Or perhaps she only runs from things she cannot emotionally control such as her relationship with Paul transforming from some kind of social experiment into something that might actually mean something. But yet she still seeks out her birth mother. And what exactly does the wise, all knowing blind girl represent? The intellectuals are quiet because none of them know the answer to that one.
Eventually the intellectuals will ask me, even though I’m not one of them though I do like me a latte, did I like this movie ‘Mother and Child’. I’d have to tell them ‘no, not really’. Not because it was a bad movie considering it was crisply acted, particularly by Naomi Watts, the narrative was consistently engaging while admittedly overly manipulative and at times it was difficult to tear your eyes away from the screen, becoming wholly wrapped up in the lives of these miserable people. But that’s just it, this was a miserable movie watching experience. At least for me it was. By the time we got the endgame of this movie, I sat there thinking to myself… ‘Seriously Rodrigo, seriously? This is what you’re going to do to us? This is how you’re going out?’
If you can sift through the overt manipulation from a filmmaker literally trying to yank tears from your eyes and if you can tolerate viewing a collection of men so weak that it’s wonder they have enough backbone to keep them upright, there’s some power here in ‘Mother and Child’. I had difficulty getting past those things. Now observe as I deftly stiff those intellectuals on that seven dollar cup of coffee.