Dynamite performances from Annette Bening and Naomi Watts ignite this strong drama from writer-director Rodrigo Garcia. Bening, at her blistering best, plays Karen, a physical therapist who was 14 when she gave up her daughter for adoption. Thirty-five years later, Karen has still frozen herself off from feeling, even when Paco (Jimmy Smits), a compassionate colleague, attempts to get close. Watts portrays Elizabeth, the daughter Karen has never met but who shares her mother’s bitterness. Elizabeth is a hotshot lawyer, but it’s clear that she feels shortchanged by life. Control is what she prizes above all things. When Elizabeth initiates an affair with Paul (a subtly nuanced portrait by Samuel L. Jackson), her widower boss, it’s on her terms. The sex scene between these two can fairly be called chillingly erotic.
The plot escalates along with the film’s emotive temperature when Elizabeth becomes pregnant. Garcia also introduces a third woman to the mix. She’s Lucy (Kerry Washington), a childless married woman who turns to the adoption market with a vengeance. It’s through the stories of these three women that Garcia examines parenthood from oblique angles that barely intersect but yield reservoirs of feeling. Garcia, acclaimed for the features Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her and Nine Lives and his work on the HBO series In Treatment, takes the time to build character. In Mother and Child, he creates an emotional powerhouse.