Two different takes on unexpected parenthood
Mother and Child
The trailer for this latest Naomi Watts/Annette Bening/Samuel L. Jackson vehicle was, in my view, a mix of predictable, schmaltzy and yet strangely enticing. And ultimately it proved to be all that and more. This tale of interweaving lives (crafted by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez) sees unexpectedly nuanced performances from the terrific Bening as an embittered woman who gave up her child at age 14 and Watts as the coldly independent lawyer whose inability to bond emotionally ultimately leads to heartbreak. The third woman, whose story revolves around her desire to adopt a baby and the impact this has on her marriage, is played by Kerry Washington who bakes cupcakes for a living and often tends to overact, though granted she is dumped with some weak lines during the first half of the film.
Bringing up the male contingent, Jimmy Smits is notable as the even-tempered, slightly paunchy colleague whose attentions attempt to win over Bening’s prickly pear. However, it’s shoutingly obvious that the female characters in this film are, without exception, unlikeable in some capacity, whereas the men are doting, patient and impossible to criticise. (Even Washington’s husband doesn’t come off as annoying and whiny as she does, despite dipping out before the going gets tough.) Meanwhile, Watts climbs the corporate ladder, onto the boss’s lap, and dabbles in home-wrecking, just for the hell of it. Bening is distant from her own mother and mistreats her home-help (who are Hispanic and tolerant, just like Smit’s Paco). Bening’s mother makes thoughtless comments. Washington’s mother nags. The pregnant teen is feisty and unendearing. Only the nun smiles with any degree of warmth!
Despite all this however, I found the story engaging and the essence of the personal crises very affecting. Audiences may consider it predictable or convenient in places, and there’s no disputing the strands are tied together at the end so we can leave the cinema feeling ever so slightly optimistic after two hours of angst. Mother and Child will not be for everyone, and the trailer warned as much, but I’m glad I took a chance with it nonetheless.
Life As We Know It
The trailer seemed to give everything away (two people hate each other! are made Godparents! the kid’s parents die! they have to bring up the kid! together! will they fall in love??). I wondered who the heck Josh Duhamel was anyway (it turns out he’s a soldier in Transformers 1 and 2) and I feared Katherine Heigl would fax in her Knocked Up performance here, and dish out another rom-com about unexpected parenthood foisted upon two incompatible singletons.
In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised. The plot may not be quite paper thin, perhaps more the cardboard of the cake boxes Heigl’s character Holly packs her cupcakes in (as in Mother and Child – this shows she is at heart homely and maternal!). But the performances, chemistry and comic timing of our romantic leads make for a fun couple of hours, with a witty script and overall likable characters in every scene. Eschewing the screenwriter’s usual habit of making the interim boyfriend some sort of closet egomaniac or secret child-hater, Josh Lucas plays Doctor Sam, a worthy adversary to Duhamel’s bumbling but charismatic Messer. The hodgepodge of well-meaning neighbours are hilarious, and new face Sarah Burns puts in a terrific performance as the child welfare officer whose impromptu visits provide the impetus for some of the slapstick.
But it is the family play-acting between Heigl, Duhamel and their onscreen daughter which seals the film’s realism, and gets us caring about their future. A public row at a suburban street party, both characters oblivious to their painted animal faces as they deliver heartfelt lines, is a particular delight. The film may be predictable, and as light as Holly’s baking, but it’s certainly just as delicious.