The fact that it is still illegal in some states for same-sex couples to adopt a child lends a certain piquancy to The Kid, a musical about the experiences of two gay men and their adoptive son that recently opened in New York. Could another musical – call it Be My Baby – about Haitian orphans spirited off by American Christians be far behind? Adoption shapes the lives of the unfulfilled women whose intersecting stories form the basis of Mother and Child, a melodrama about maternal longing that was released elsewhere in time for Mother’s Day.
Writer-director Rodrigo García, who was not adopted but grew up with his biological parents, Mercedes Barcha Pardo and novelist Gabriel García Márquez, employs the Altmanesque multi-character structure he used in his earlier films Nine Lives (2005) and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (2000) to examine varieties of the mother-daughter relationship. Karen (Bening), a prickly 51-year-old physical therapist, remains tormented by thoughts about the child she bore and was forced to give up for adoption 37 years ago. Unbeknownst to her, that child, Elizabeth (Watts), now, lives in a different part of Los Angeles. “I’m my own person,” Elizabeth proclaims while interviewed for a position at a top law firm. “I value my independence above all things.” Though she seizes control of that interview and her sexual partners, Elizabeth’s professional and erotic conquests cannot compensate for the hollowness at the core of her being.
Meanwhile, Lucy (Washington), a baker who is unable to conceive a child with her husband Joseph, desperately seeks to adopt one. She submits to auditions conducted by an imperious young woman who is intent on making her own decision about how to dispose of the fruit of her unexpected pregnancy.
Mother and Child occupies a gynocentric universe, in which men are either absent (like the blind girl who hangs out on the roof of Elizabeth’s apartment building, Karen and Lucy lack fathers, and even Karen’s housekeeper has a daughter who might have been conceived through immaculate conception) or else so implausibly flawless they seem not to belong to this world. As Karen’s mistreated suitor, Paco (Smits) displays the patience of a saint, or of a character concocted to serve the pleasure of female fantasies. Paul (Jackson), the head of the law firm that hires Elizabeth, is a paragon of wisdom and forbearance, despite an infatuation with his stunning employee. Even the adoption agency that is a point of convergence for all the movie’s separate plots is run by a radiant nun, with nary a priest in sight.
Fine ensemble acting cannot overcome the implausibility of the stories in Mother and Child and the sentimentality of their resolution. Despite the elemental emotions it exposes, the film is a cerebral invention, a conscious attempt to assemble anecdotes of tortured motherhood consistent with the ethnic demographics of southern California. “Your willfulness is a great part of your charm,” says Paul to Elizabeth. Necessity, not willfulness, should be the mother of cinematic invention. •