Bening Haunted by Adoption; Hutton’s Miserable Playwright: Film

Photographer: Ralph Nelson/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

Annette Bening and Jimmy Smits in "Mother and Child." Close

Annette Bening and Jimmy Smits in "Mother and Child."

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Photographer: Ralph Nelson/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

Annette Bening and Jimmy Smits in "Mother and Child."

Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Sandra Bullock have made tabloid headlines by adopting children. Rodrigo Garcia takes a more sober look at the subject in “Mother and Child.”

This beautifully written and acted movie is about three women profoundly affected by adoption: Karen (Annette Bening), a physical therapist still haunted by the baby she gave away 37 years ago as a teenager; the child she gave up, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), an ambitious lawyer who has trouble making emotional connections; and Lucy (Kerry Washington), a young married woman desperate to adopt.

The women don’t know each other and their lives don’t intersect until the very end. Writer/director Garcia, who specializes in overlapping tales about troubled women (“Nine Lives,” “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her”), gives strong signals that their destinies are intertwined without sacrificing the suspense about how exactly that will happen.

Garcia has clearly inherited writing skills from his father, Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His characters are multidimensional, his plotting is inventive and his dialogue is sharp.

Blind Girl

It’s the three actresses, though, who make the film extraordinary. Bening and Watts, both portraying women with gaping psychological wounds, have never been better. Washington, who has previously played the wives of Ray Charles and Idi Amin, isn’t far behind.

“Mother and Child” occasionally slips into melodrama -- I would have cut the scenes where Elizabeth befriends a blind girl and briefly reunites with the father of her child -- but overall the sentimentality is kept in check.

Men have supporting, albeit important, roles in the movie. Jimmy Smits plays a co-worker of Karen’s who tries to thaw her cold protective mask. Samuel L. Jackson is Elizabeth’s boss at the law firm, a lonely widower who becomes her lover.

But, as the title states, this is mainly a story about women and their most primal bond. Adoption is a complex, emotionally fraught issue that deserves to be treated with utmost respect. Garcia does that with an artist’s touch.

“Mother and Child,” from Sony Pictures Classics, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2

‘Babies’

Babies” is a French documentary that follows four infants from birth to their first steps. It’s a nice idea that doesn’t work as well as you might expect.

To give the film an international flavor and emphasize the universality of children, filmmaker Thomas Balmes selected babies from Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the U.S. We watch them develop in similar ways despite their disparate environments, ranging from desolate countryside to crowded cities and poverty to upper-middle-class comfort.

Without any narration or subtitles, the film shows the babies breast-feeding, crying, playing, bathing, fighting and doing other things that infants are known for. The baby in Namibia plays in a dirt field and nibbles on an unidentified bone while the one in San Francisco luxuriates in an outdoor whirlpool and listens to mom reading books aloud.

We get the point early on. After a while, like the babies, I was ready for a nap.

“Babies,” from Focus Features, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: **

‘Multiple Sarcasms’

Forget talking to a shrink. “Multiple Sarcasms” has another cure for the blues: Write a play.

Gabriel (Timothy Hutton), a New York architect trapped in an unhappy marriage in 1979, leaves his wife (Dana Delany) and daughter (India Ennenga) to work on a play about the most influential people in his life. They include his best friend (Mira Sorvino), who he has a crush on; his agent (Stockard Channing), who pushes him to write; and a colleague (Mario Van Peebles) who fires him and then offers support.

Gabriel has an unorthodox method of working: He likes to lock himself in the bathroom, sit on the toilet and peck away at his typewriter. We have no idea whether he has any talent or why we should care about him.

His play finally opens and gets good reviews. Even his estranged wife likes it.

Director Brooks Branch tries to capture the zeitgeist of the 1970s, but the closest he comes is the soundtrack, which includes hits by Helen Reddy, Billy Paul and the Spinners.

“Multiple Sarcasms,” from Multiple Avenue Releasing, opens tomorrow in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Salt Lake City. Rating: *1/2


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

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