Film Reviews


By • May 31st, 2010 •

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You haven’t seen women like this before. Cruel, distant, unfriendly, and selfish. Provocative and daring in its unsentimental approach to real life problems.

There are three independent stories that eventually merge. A 14-year-old has a baby girl and is forced by her mother to give the child up for adoption. Thirty-seven years later Karen (Annette Bening) is caring for her invalid, sick mother Nora (Eileen Ryan). Karen has been her mother’s keeper and her life is bitter and unfulfilled. Never married, Karen is anti-social, awkward and frankly, someone you would instinctively shy away from.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is the daughter Karen gave up. She is a brilliant lawyer, but is hard, cold and cruel. She mocks her young neighbors but will, on a vicious whim, destroy their marriage and the happiness of the birth of their first child. Just because she can.

Then there is Lucy (Kerry Washington) who cannot have children. She bullies her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) into going through the adoption process. She screams at him and calls him names. He doesn’t want to adopt but Lucy is pushing him into it. They are set up by a Catholic agency and meet a young 20-year-old expectant mother who is tough and knows she has power – a lot of people want her baby. She has conditions. She has terms. She keeps turning down couples. Just because she can.

She thinks she is carrying The Christ Child.

All these women are miserable. When Karen sees that her mother has given gifts to the housekeeper’s young daughter, she is rightfully angry. She blames her miserable, empty life on her mother. When a fellow co-worker, Paco (Jimmy Smits), shows an interest in her, she repels him with insults. What does Paco see in her? Her abject love of misery?

Elizabeth has led a selfish life. At 17 years old, got her tubes tied in Mexico. She refuses to get close to anyone, even her kind, old, gentle boss, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). In bed, she calls him “old man”. She’s on top – in the relationship and in bed.

You feel sorry for Karen because her mother made her give up her baby and made her a servant. It’s her penance for getting pregnant. She is a physical therapist for old people – to boot! Every day Karen writes to her daughter. When, miraculously, she and Paco marry, Karen decides to go looking for her daughter.

That is never a good idea. There is always resentment, anger, and punishment to mete out. Whatever the circumstances, adoptees always feel that they were given away because they were not wanted. That is a hard thing to live with.

Elizabeth is on her own ugly path. Pregnant with Paul’s child, she never tells him and leaves town. She knows he would want the baby and desperately wants her. His large family is terrific. But she is cruel. Lucy gets her baby but hates being a mother! Lucy has left her husband and has forgotten how much she wanted a baby. Any baby.

Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia has written tough women, and it is fearless Bening who understands Karen and does not attempt to soften her in any way. She looks aged and raw. Karen is seething with anger. Thank goodness Watts has never gone the romantic comedy route. She is terrific here.

Garcia has two themes he keeps repeating. While the agency that binds the three stories together is Catholic, no one believes in God. And, time spent together is better than blood.

All the performances are strong, even supporting actors Smits, Jackson and Ramsey. The women are so dangerous, all the men can do is stay out of their way.

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