May 18, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 17 March 2011 13:55
With the Oscars history for one more year, we’re now in the slow season before the summer blockbusters begin to appear. That leaves us to choose DVDs, new and classic, to create nutritious movie menus for our families. This week The Reel Dad looks at a film recently released on DVD, Mother and Child.As children, we cling to our parents’ hands, believing in how they provide, relying on them to protect, and trusting when they guide. Later, if we become parents ourselves, we quickly learn how we must learn to mask our own uncertainties as we try to reassure the young faces looking into our eyes. Relationships with parents define how children approach their lives and any gap in this essential connection will, certainly, alter perspectives and priorities.
Mother and Child is a moving, if somewhat predictable, exploration of the many dynamics of parent-child relationships. The film uses that much-too-familiar movie framework — favored by Crash and Babel among others — of linking unrelated stories in a cinematic way to enhance the meaning and message. But such a gimmick isn’t needed this time around. Mother and Child — thanks to the authentic performances of Annette Bening and Naomi Watts — creates such powerful truth that movie tricks are meaningless. What matters here are the significant issues between parents and children that the film dares to explore. Though it sputters in its efforts to connect the narrative threads, what remains is so honest and meaningful that the artificiality of the approach does not dim the authenticity of the relationships.
Bening — in her second Oscar-worthy performance of 2010 (along with The Kids Are All Right) plays a middle-aged hospital worker who, when a teenager, gave birth to a daughter she gave up for adoption. Naomi Watts — in her second magnetic portrayal of the year (along with Fair Game) — portrays that baby many years later who, despite her professional success, continues to carry personal scars. Their stories — explored separately without the characters actually meeting — reveal the many sides of such an intensely personal situation. Through the eyes of these fascinating women we learn how decisions are never simple, relationships are far from perfect, and parents rarely provide everything that children believe they need. But we try.
The real force of the film comes from Bening’s unselfish willingness to reveal all the negative aspects of her character. She brings a complex collection of raw nerves to a stunning portrayal of a daughter willing to care for her mother — despite their history — and a mother fantasizing about how she would care for her the daughter she has never known. Everything Bening delivers in this film — from the mannerisms, use of the eyes, and warmth of her expression — is from a completely different acting place than her stunning work in The Kids Are All Right. 2010 will be remembered as the stellar year in her career despite losing the Oscar to Natalie Portman. Watts, as well, makes her character so achingly real that, when she makes her own stunning choices late in the film, we completely understand what people will do to soothe lifetimes of hurtful emptiness. Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson register with strong performances as fundamental men in the women’s lives.
Mother and Child settles, unfortunately, for a cliché ending that is inconsistent with the authenticity of the rest of the film. Sadly, this honest story resorts to a predictable resolution that could have been lifted from a television movie. The moviemakers, at the most critical moment, fail to trust the audience. We don’t need a Hollywood ending to get what this movie is all about.
Mother and Child
* Content: Medium. As long as the film focuses on the stories of Bening and Watts it soars; unfortunately other subplots get in the way.
* Entertainment: Medium. Bening and Watts create such strong, colorful characters that they command our attention. But they aren’t the entire movie.
* Message: High. Regardless of the film’s weaknesses, the issues of family are clearly conveyed thanks to the performances of Bening and Watts.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to learn more about parents, children and what they can mean to each other is always relevant.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. There is a lot here to discuss with older children. This can be a worthwhile movie experience to share.
(Mother and Child is rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, and language. The film runs 125 minutes.)
3-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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