Three terrific performances are at the center of Mother and Child, an emotionally taxing drama that focuses on a trio of women all dealing with the issue of adoption.
Annette Bening, perhaps first among equals, is all coiled tension and repressed emotion as Karen, who at 14 was forced by her mother (Eileen Ryan) to give up her newborn baby and has been haunted by the incident ever since. She's intolerant and rude to everyone around her, and it takes an attentive co-worker (Jimmy Smits) to finally start breaking down her defenses. Naomi Watts displays a chilly disposition as Elizabeth, who was given up for adoption as a child and has been molded by her past into an icy attorney who prefers to avoid (or toy with) people rather than get close to them. That begins to change, however, once she embarks on an affair with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). And Kerry Washington packs the empathic heat as Lucy, whose infertility leads her and her cloddish husband Joseph (David Ramsey) to want to adopt a child. They meet with a pregnant young woman (Shareeka Epps) who's interviewing prospective couples to raise her child, but Lucy isn't sure that she and Joseph will be picked for the honor.
Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia leans toward the melodramatic during the final portion of the film, and it's annoying how neatly all the story strands manage to wrap around each other right before the fadeout. But for the most part, Garcia offers a sober, clear-eyed picture that's populated with prickly personalities and unenviable situations, and he and his actors are brave enough not to flinch even during the most challenging interludes.