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“Mother and Child” is “Crash”-tastic.

“Mother and Child” is “Crash”-tastic. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Friggin’ Paul Haggis.

Love or hate Haggis’ 2004 Best Picture winner “Crash,” we can all agree on one thing: in the wake of its success, we all endured far too many knockoff humanist ensemble issue films. Just when it seemed like the end of that trend was finally in sight, here comes Sundance 2010 selection “Mother and Child,” yet another movie about a bunch of people with interconnected lives and a really important topic on their minds, in this case, adoption and single motherhood. These movies in the “Crash” mold are about two things: big ethical points and big acting, to the exclusion of just about everything else. The real shame here is that one of the stories by writer/director Rodrigo Garcia is actually pretty strong, far stronger than the others. But its impact is dulled by the film’s format, which repeatedly pushes it aside to pick up other, lesser plotlines and characters. It’s like trying to watch a really good television show with someone who insists on flipping to another channel during every commercial break.

The winner in the bunch is Naomi Watts who, in a terrific performance, plays Elizabeth, a ferociously competitive careerist starting a new job at a law firm run by Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). For Watts, Elizabeth offers an opportunity to showcase an intensity she hasn’t tapped into onscreen in a while. It’s nice to see it back. When she tells Paul in her job interview that many women find her threatening, we can see why; she is an intimidating, formidable presence. Elizabeth reveals in the same interview that she was given up for adoption by her mother when she was a newborn. She never met the woman and doesn’t care to; she isn’t close with her adopted parents and she doesn’t intend to marry. “I’m not in the sisterhood,” she says. “I’m my own person.”

01192010_motherandchild1.jpgSoon, Paul and Elizabeth will begin an affair in a sex scene that ranks amongst the best in any recent movie, not because it is particularly sexy but because of the way it subtly reveals things about Elizabeth, particularly her issues with control and intimacy. Garcia frames the characters so that they almost never share the screen at the same time, creating a visible distance between them even while they’re having sex. Watts’ performance in the scene, and the entire movie, is sure to garner her some well-deserved attention.

But a problem with a performance this good in a film like this is we have to share it with others that, even if they aren’t necessarily bad, just aren’t as interesting. Annette Bening plays Karen, the woman who gave Elizabeth up when she was just 14 years old, and has lived with the guilt and pain of that decision for her entire life. Kerry Washington plays Lucy, a woman who can’t have a child of her own trying to find a baby to adopt. And yes, while it is sort of interesting to compare the three women – Karen and Elizabeth’s similar reactions to men even though they’ve never met; the black and white design that dominates the cold Elizabeth’s life contrasts sharply with the colorful, flowery clothes and home furnishings of the warmer Lucy – those scenes are never more interesting than simply following Elizabeth. At a certain point, Garcia goes so overboard with wild plot twists in all the plot threads (people dying, people radically changing deeply held beliefs) that even Watts’ storyline suffers.

0192010_motherandchild3.jpgBy the time Elizabeth is receiving counseling from a (wait for it) blind-but-wise teenager, the characters’ are no longer making decisions for themselves. They’re totally at the mercy of a screenwriter manipulating their lives for maximum shock value and poignancy. One particularly egregious deus ex machina involves a letter that must be lost at the perfect them, then rediscovered at the perfect time, in order to engineer the resolution the screenplay demands. To Garcia’s credit, he has created some rich, fascinating characters, particularly Watts’ and Jackson’s. But why can’t he let them breathe for even one scene without a crisis or a breakdown or at least than a half dozen references to babies, pregnancy and adoption? At times, it seems like he would rather make a point than make a movie.

“Mother and Child” will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on May 7th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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