June 4, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'Mother and Child' -- GRADE: B-

Review: 'Mother and Child' falls short of high potential

Naomi Watts stars as Elizabeth in "Mother and Child." (Ralph Nelson / Sony Pictures Classics)

With its primal subject matter and dazzling array of talent, "Mother and Child" is something of a can't-miss proposition, although it manages to miss at times anyway.

In essence, writer-director Rodrigo Garcia ("In Treatment," "Nine Lives") follows three women dealing with motherhood and loss.

There's 51-year-old Karen (Annette Bening), who gave up a daughter she had at age 14 and has mourned that fact ever since. That daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), is now 37, a steely lawyer having to confront her own maternal potential.

Running parallel to their story is that of an infertile woman named Lucy (Kerry Washington) who is trying to adopt a child.

Obviously, this is emotionally rich ground and Garcia plows it perhaps a bit too heavily, especially when it comes to Karen, who has lived her life with an ailing mother in a state of constant emotional grief, inexplicably refusing to reach out to the daughter she gave up.

When she finally hooks up with a saint of a guy (Jimmy Smits) and starts falling forward in life it seems too sudden. Just as when Elizabeth too swiftly moves from icy to warm in the film's second half.

The difference is Watts (is there a better actress alive?) has the ability to make such a ragged transition somehow work, while Bening -- and perhaps it's because the camera lingers on her too long -- can't. She moves from quirky mess to sympathetic wife in a blink.

And two blinks later her story collides with Lucy's in such a coincidental manner that even Karen laughs aloud.

There is much good in "Mother and Child" -- with its pedigree and concerns how could there not be? It's just there is much that could have been better.

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