Film review: Mother and Child

Mother and Child
2009
Everest Entertainment, Cha Cha Cha, Mockingbird Pictures

STARRING Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, David Morse, Carla Gallo, Amy Brenneman, Lindsay Gay Hamilton, Jimmy Smits
WRITTEN BY Rodrigo García
PRODUCED BY Lisa Maria Falcone, Tom Heller, Julie Lynn
DIRECTED BY Rodrigo García

SHOT BY Xavier Pérez Grobet
EDITED BY Steven Weisberg
MUSIC BY Ed Shearmur
DISTRIBUTED BY Sony Pictures Classics

Screened on 2010-05-13

I’m going to try and get this done as quickly as possible, as the film already ate up two hours of my time and I’d be frustrated to know it ate up any more than necessary. Whoops. I think we got off on the wrong foot. Hi there, I’m David. I go to see films, and sometimes write about them. Now and then I find myself at a screening, and about five seconds in I realize I want it to end. I find myself praying for characters to die, knowing that this will resolve plotlines and bring about inevitable denouements. Mother and Child was such a film. I suppose it could’ve been worse – though it’s hard to imagine it being slower. OK. Enough ambiguity.

I don’t even want to talk about the film’s plot. It’s so goddamn boring. It focuses on three women, played by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington (in that order), and the intersections of their lives mostly due to the decisions of the elder Bening, and her former pregnancy, which pushed the film’s first domino. All main characters are women and involve pregnancy and the ramifications of obtaining or abandoning children. Kerry Washington starred in the comparable, and equally as forgettable (and forgotten), film The Dead Girl, from Six Feet Under director and midlist-fictionist Karen Moncrieff, and another film fascinated by coincidence, but bored to death with existence.

Rodrigo Garcia wrote and directed, and I only know his work from scattered episodes of HBO’s Six Feet Under which he also directed. These were competent enough, but I now realize worked because of the quality of the source material, which clearly had nothing to do with Garcia. Though he was seemingly inspired by the touchy-feely Beautiful American Drama story. American Beauty inspired a generation of well-meaning middle-aged white people who live in Hollywood to make similar films, “independent films” by technical standards but which star major actors and are made by the chums of working Hollywood doods. These are films with sparseness all over the place, films that all seem to have the same recycled, delicate piano score by Thomas Newman, and same flat, undynamic cinematography, and whose sets seem to be wholly comprised of furniture from IKEA. Established actors take the roles, I would imagine as favors, and do what they can to elevate the material, which reads like the post-collegiate fiction-major submissions to American literary magazines. Characters tiptoe around one another as prisoners of courtesy, or are abnormally cruel – either way, two-dimensional. And injecting synthetic sentimentality after the fact adds insult to injury (I’m speaking largely of the score and the sophomore cinematography). But I suppose when you make a film in a vacuum, that’s what you get. The film’s only real breath of fresh air, which Garcia successfully managed to stifle, was the relaxed, professional naturalness of Samuel L. Jackson, and it was at least intriguing to watch Naomi Watts have her way with him. The film’s message is: “Actions have consequences. Don’t forget it.” That’s fine. But one easily forgets the text before his eyes if he takes it in while being lulled to sleep. This film feels like a lullaby, sung to a baby from a mother who is medicated to the point of numbness. I blame Alan Ball for all of this.

written by David Ashley

Postscript
2012-03-21: Re-read. Dismissive, emotional and all but useless review.

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