The people in Rodrigo Garcia’s deeply felt independent drama “Mother and Child” are not easy to like, much less love. But they are fascinating to watch.
It boasts richly drawn, beautifully complex performances by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington in a study of the bond between mothers and their children — or rather, the lack of it.
Bening plays Karen, a physical therapist bitter at the world because she gave her baby up for adoption after becoming pregnant at age 14. She cares for her ailing elderly mother, has no friends and doesn’t relate to people well. She’s coarse and confrontational, and when a new co-worker (Jimmy Smits) reaches out to her, she lashes out in anxiety.
She explains all of this in her diary, which she addresses to the daughter she never knew but dreams of finding. She hopes to make amends, someday, if she could summon the courage to start the search.
Watts plays Elizabeth, who we eventually find out is Karen’s daughter, a confident and successful attorney starting a new job at a prestigious firm. She has high aspirations but never stays in one place too long, as her new boss points out.
She’s listless and likes to use sex to manipulate people, whether it be her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) or her neighbors, a young couple who are expecting a child themselves. But her world comes to a halt when she learns she might be pregnant.
And Washington plays Lucy, who has recently been informed that she’s incapable of conceiving her own child. So she and her husband tread the tricky waters of adoption, and undergo the rigorous, emotional process, made worse as her marriage dissolves and circumstances threaten her chances to adopt.
Garcia, who first made a splash with his independent drama “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her” and, most recently, the HBO series “In Treatment,” lets the tone border on melodrama, as things get messy. But his superb cast deftly humanizes the struggles.
Bening is particularly magnificent, and her character has the biggest arc, as she learns to love again and starts the search for her daughter.
It’s all emotionally affecting, and at times sad. But Garcia’s meditation on motherhood is a somber yet thoughtful and meaningful journey.
“Mother and Child”
Rating: R (sexuality, brief nudity and language)
Starring: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington
Written and directed by: Rodrigo Garcia
Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)