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Published: Friday, 6/25/2010

Movie Review: 'Mother and Child' ***


Karen (Annette Bening) isn't kidding about her disposition when she corrects an exasperated colleague: "I'm not a weirdo, but I'm difficult. ... I demand a lot from others."

Now roughly 51 years old, her life has been shaped by the out-of-wedlock baby she delivered at 14 and placed for adoption. "Every thought in my head takes me back to her," she tells fellow physical therapist (Jimmy Smits).

"I don't know if she is dead or alive. I have nothing else. I have nothing to give. That's who I am."

If anyone can help her to thaw and rediscover joy, it's Mr. Smits' character, even with what appears to be a fake paunch to tone down his natural sex appeal.

Ms. Bening plays one of three women whose lives have been shaped by adoption in "Mother and Child." The others: Naomi Watts is Elizabeth, a take-charge lawyer and loner who was adopted as an infant, while Kerry Washington is Lucy, a wife and bakery owner who is trying to adopt a child with her husband.

"Mother and Child, "a film by writer-director Rodrigo Garcia, veers close to Hallmark movie territory and leans mightily on coincidence and convenience, such as the misplacing of a letter and the longevity of an adoption agency.

It's saved by unexpected turns and the strong underpinnings provided by the trio of leads along with the key men in their lives, including Smits as a man who seems heaven-sent and Samuel L. Jackson in a beautifully modulated turn as Elizabeth's widowed boss and lover.

The supporting players are an impressive lot too. Cherry Jones is a nun at a Catholic adoption agency, Shareeka Epps (Ryan Gosling's young co-star in "Half Nelson") plays a pregnant 20-year-old interviewing prospective parents, and S. Epatha Merkerson is Lucy's mother, who suggests Lucy's mother-in-law will "blow a gasket" at the thought of adoption.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Barbara Vancheri is movie editor of the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: bvancheri@post-gazette.com.

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