Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The Movie: Mother and Child packs a wallop
With the release of two excellent adoption-themed films, Casa de los Babies (2003) and Loggerheads (2005), I thought Hollywood had finally come to understand adoption loss. No more schmaltzy stories with birthmothers as misty-eyed heroines (e.g. To Each His Own, 1946 and Three Secrets, 1951). My hopes were dashed by two dreadful films released in 2007, Juno and Then She Found Me. No longer a self-sacrificing martyr, the birthmother was now a wise-cracking teenager or a manipulative liar.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to see Mother and Child, a new film written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. This film is all that I hoped for and more. It chips away at adoption myths, telling the truth about forced separations of mother and child.
The film opens in 1973 with 14 year old Karen unbuttoning her blouse while her boy friend watches, eager for what is to come. Next we see a very pregnant Karen in a room with other pregnant girls followed by a screaming Karen giving birth. Fast forward to 2010 and the adult Karen (Annette Bening) tells her mother, “she would be 37 today”.
The scene shifts to Elizabeth, Karen’s daughter, (Naomi Watts), an attorney interviewing for a job. We learn that Karen has moved from place to place, never committing herself to anything. Finally we meet Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband. Lucy explains to a social worker nun that they have accepted adoption because Lucy has not been able to conceive. Her husband nods in agreement with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm
The three women struggle with loss. Karen is tense, bitter, and distrustful, striking out at those seeking to help her. Elizabeth, unable to connect with anyone or any place, uses sex to assert herself and control others. Lucy works to convince herself and her husband that an adopted child can replace the child they cannot have biologically. The stories of the three women move separately until they intersect dramatically at the end of the film
Other women fill in the tableau, displaying the many facets of mother-daughter relationships -- Karen’s mother who cannot accept her responsibility for Karen’s loss of her child; Lucy’s mother, encouraging her daughter but unsure about having an adopted grandchild; a pregnant woman planning to give up a child; her mother, facing the loss of a grandchild; the social worker nun, moving infants from one woman to another; and a single mother, employed as a housekeeper who brings her daughter to work with her when other care is unavailable.
Although adoption connects all the characters, Garcia said in an interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, that he considers the film to be about forced separation, not adoption. He learned about the loss inherent in adoption loss by reading memoirs of young girls forced to hide their pregnancies and give up their babies. (The interview itself is well worth hearing.)
The film has some fine acting, particularly by Annette Bening and Samuel L. Jackson who plays Elizabeth’s boss and lover. The cast also includes one of my favorite actors, Law and Order’s S. Epatha Merkerson as Lucy’s mother.
There are some flaws -- Elizabeth’s behavior is unconvincing, some plot twists seem contrived, there is way too much graphic sex -- but they do not mar the truth and power of the film.
PS: A piece of news today: "Adopted," the movie (80-minute feature documentary) is now from Netflix!
Documentary only. Educational DVD for professionals and parents that includes 6 distinct sessions with advice from leading experts in the field of adoption not included. I've been anxious to see this and am glad I'll be able to. Here's the trailer: