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Mother and Child

From his career beginnings with Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her nearly a decade ago, Rodrigo García has devoted himself overwhelmingly to creating fresh, acute portraits of modern women, often in the film equivalent of the short-story form. He does so again here, working with the same degree of intimate intensity but with longer character arcs and more pointed thematic intent, as he centers on three women at various stages of theoretical, but not always actual, daughterhood and motherhood. Flinty nursing home physical therapist Karen (Annette Bening) cares for her deteriorating mother at home and can’t abide the occasional presence of the daughter of her maid because she offers a continual reminder of the daughter she had at 14 and put up for adoption. When her ma dies, Karen is left alone and full of self-recrimination. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a frosty, self-possessed attorney who has moved back to Los Angeles and has a top job at a big law firm run by Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), a widower with grown daughters. She initiates an affair with her new boss in which she calls all the shots, as shown in a breathtaking initial sex scene. Elizabeth is a bit scary in the degree to which everything in her life has to be precisely on her terms, but her commandeering absolutism has a clarity and simplicity about it, as well as an element of the dominatrix, which proves titillating to the men she approaches. Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband have tried and failed to conceive a child for the longest time and are now in the adoption market, Lucy obsessively so. Working through an adoption sponsor, the couple meets a pregnant 20-year-old who means to give up her baby at birth but is very particular about who will raise it, triggering further anxiety in Lucy. Each of the three central women has her own way of making it difficult for others to penetrate her defenses. Distraught at losing her mother and faced with never meeting her own daughter, Karen runs hot and cold with Paco (Jimmy Smits), a patient new man in her life, before making genuine connections with him. Elizabeth has her whole life figured out until she unexpectedly becomes pregnant, a development she greets with customary decisiveness. Faced with her own crisis, Lucy becomes unglued before, with the help of her mother, she figures out how to deal with her new life. Watts, so notable for her emotional availability as a performer, has never shown anything near the steeliness of her characterization of Elizabeth, a quality later offset by an extraordinary calm. Bening’s performance similarly extends across a huge range with much shading in between as Karen struggles to improve a life dominated by regrets. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Jackson, for the first time in memory playing a regular guy instead of someone extreme, and doing so with unprecedented restraint and deliberation. It would be great to see more of where this comes from. – Todd McCarthy, Variety
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Directed by: 
Rodrigo García
Running Time: 
Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits
Screenplay by: 
Rodrigo García

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