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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mother and Child

Nature and Nurture

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Whether in Crash or Babel, the crisscrossing intersection of individuals across boundaries of class, race and geography has become a common plotline in contemporary film. It’s also a theme in its own right, posing unanswered questions of synchronicity, fate and chance, and showing how our actions can affect the lives of people unseen. Perhaps this is an unavoidable byproduct of social networking, which promotes the notion that only three or four degrees separate us from everyone else.

In Mother and Child, parenthood is explored through such a crisscross of people who might never meet. The rather off-putting, prickly physical therapist Karen (Annette Benning) was 14 when she became pregnant; she gave her child up at birth. That baby grew into Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), a coldly ambitious attorney with no knowledge of her biological mother. The affluent African-American couple, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and Joseph (David Ramsey), can’t have children and desperately seek to adopt a baby. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has simultaneous affairs with two men, her married neighbor and a partner at her law firm (Samuel L. Jackson), while Karen gradually opens the rusty lock of her heart to a new coworker.

Over the slow moving course of Mother and Child, the lifelines of these people move gradually toward their inevitable intersection. There are some psychologically and socially astute moments, especially between Elizabeth and her aged, ailing mother, whose caring relationship is replete with the silence of so many years and so many regrets. The terrible sound of a thud in the night will be familiar to anyone who has cared for elderly parents. Too much of Mother and Child, however, has the slack pace, improbable developments and soft focus of a made-for-TV movie—albeit one with a couple of explicit sexual encounters. The cast performs ably in a story that veers unnecessarily toward soap opera.