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Mother and Child
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this heartrending drama examines the complex repercussions of one adoption, and how its effects radiate outward from mother and child and can still be felt through the years. There’s no downplaying it: The film’s serious, and its heavy subjects may prove too overwhelming for both adults and the oldest of teens. There’s also some swearing (a rare "f--k" and "c--t"), plus flashes of nudity, and several sex scenes where very little is shown.
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What's the story?
Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia’s wrenching drama finds a 51-year-old Los Angeles nurse, Karen (Annette Bening), still smarting from a decision she made as a 14 year old: to give up the baby she became pregnant with when she decided to have sex with her then-boyfriend. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t think about that child, to whom she writes everyday in her journal. What has become of her? Does she ever think of her mother? And yet, she can barely be civil to her cleaning lady’s young child and to her co-workers. Meanwhile, that baby has grown into a high-powered lawyer named Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), a steely, antsy soul who can’t seem to commit to a job, a place, a person for very long. But soon after her own mother dies, Karen decides it’s time to search for Elizabeth or she will never find peace; but will Elizabeth feel the same way? Meanwhile, a wife (Kerry Washington) prepares to adopt even as her marriage teeters on the brink of extinction.
Is it any good?
The first 10 minutes may just be one of the most powerful-yet-economical beginnings to a movie yet, with a scene of two teenagers making out that hurtles forward into the present. Swiftly, we know where the characters are; how they got there; how they’re shaped. Bening is in fine form with her brittle Karen whose calcified heart has entombed years of pain; Watts, meanwhile, frightens (in a good way) with her fearlessness. Her Elizabeth is strong and broken, distant and compelling. In short, she’s fully formed and convincing -- and there aren’t many film roles written this way anymore. Neither are there enough actresses with the chops to pull off such icy, yet moving, character. Washington holds her own against this formidable duo.
To be sure, critics may take offense at moments of heavy-handedness: Why, for instance, must the film’s sage be portrayed by a blind woman? (Woody Allen’s been there, done that in Crimes And Misdemeanors). And why must Elizabeth’s suitor (Samuel L. Jackson, achingly vulnerable) be inhumanly perfect? But Mother and Child is a beautiful movie, period, one that deserves to be seen by those who can handle the film's emotional intensity. Prepare for some unabashed weeping.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Karen, and the daughter she gave up, Elizabeth, were formed by the singular experience they shared so long ago: her birth and subsequent adoption. Are their characterizations believable? Do you think the movie exaggerates the characters to create an emotional response in the viewer? If so, how?
What kinds of questions about adoption does this movie bring up for you? Do you know anyone who's been involved with adoption? Did this movie make you think differently about adoption? If so, why?
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