Character study

Rodrigo García’s latest shines thanks to great script and even greater characters

Mother and Child
Ends Thursday, July 8. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

The new domestic drama by Rodrigo García (Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her) arrives in our neck of the woods without much fanfare, but it has more good stuff to deliver than all but a few films of the year so far—an exceptionally well-written script (by García), an unusually large number of interesting characters and a sterling supporting cast to play them, an outstanding performance by Annette Bening and an even more remarkable one by Naomi Watts.

In synopsis, the film might sound a little too much like heavy-duty soap opera. It’s about mothers and children, after all, and even more to the point it’s about adoptive mothers and adopted children, including those who become mothers themselves. But that overloaded-sounding premise yields an abundance of not-quite-predictable results all across the board.

Karen (Bening), a middle-aged physical therapist who lives with her aged mother, has begun to wonder what has become of the child she gave up for adoption as a teenager. Elizabeth (Watts), a coldly professional lawyer who despises her adoptive parents, slides into an illicit romance with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). Lucy (Kerry Washington), childless in an otherwise happy marriage, applies for adoption and meets up with cantankerous Ray (Shareeka Epps), who is fiercely determined to find a good home for the child she’s carrying.

Karen’s ambivalent relationships with her maid Sofia (Elpidia Carrillo) and with fellow therapist Paco (Jimmy Smits) figure in as well, and the good-hearted Sister Joanne (a calmly radiant Cherry Jones), seemingly just part of the scenery at the adoption agency, emerges as something special in the late going. Even then, the story still has room for striking cameos by David Morse, Amy Brenneman, Eileen Ryan, S. Epatha Merkerson and Elizabeth Peña.

All these stories eventually become significantly intertwined. All the connections are at least partly predictable, but with García dramatic resolutions come trailing further complications and difficulties.