Rodrigo García is a master at tapping into the psyche and emotions of average American women and their everyday experiences of life, love and struggle. In his latest film, Mother and Child, he explores three interconnecting relationships about women involved in different stages of adoption.

Annette Benning stars as a middle-aged woman that has never recovered from the trauma of giving up the child she gave birth to at 14 years old, Naomi Watts is the daughter she gave up for adoption who amuses herself with sexual trysts with random men in her life and Kerry Washington plays an infertile woman seeking to adopt a child for herself while struggling with her husband’s want for a child of his own.

Garcia’s previous films, 2000’s Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her and 2005’s Nine Lives, make use of the vignette format to explore differing stories about women but this feature follows a format more reminiscent of the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu (credited here as a producer) in which the stories play out concurrently. This gives Mother and Child a much better structure for being digested as a whole film whereas the segments of his previous films often stand on their own and sometimes even compete for attention. The stories here complement each other well and rely on one another to tell the complete story of the film.

The performances from the three leads are all fantastic. Bening is effective at making you feel her frustration with life and displays flares of comedic tone when her character’s eccentricities get the better of her. Watts walks a fine line but ultimately walks away with a bold performance that ranks up with her best. Best-in-show, however, goes to Washington who is given the least amount of screentime but haunts the rest of the film with her presence. Whenever she is offscreen, I was left wanting more of her storyline. The supporting cast features a bevy of talented character actors who are all used quite effectively, especially Cherry Jones, S. Epatha Merkerson and Jimmy Smits. It is also nice to see Samuel L. Jackson back in a dramatic role and he is actually quite good here.

It’s a shame that Sony Pictures Classics decided to bury this film with an early summer release date because it could have garnered attention for its lead actresses and maybe even a SAG ensemble nomination. A summer release date isn’t the death sentence that it used to be for smaller films like this but I can’t see the performances holding strong throughout the awards season. Bening, however, has another much buzzed performance premiering later this summer in The Kids Are Alright and her performance here will give her significant momentum heading into the Oscar race.

Mother and Child is a highly enjoyable drama featuring very strong performances. The film goes to a lot of dark and emotional places but handles them with a sense of empathy and dignity.

7 out of 10

What did you think of Mother and Child? Do you plan on seeing it when it comes to your city?

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