The many facets of motherhood are examined through the intertwining stories of three LA women in this sincere and thoughtful drama. Although in middle age, Karen (Annette Bening) never stops thinking about the baby girl she had to give up for adoption at age 14. Her baby is now Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), a successful lawyer whose greatest love is her independence. Meanwhile, infertile Lucy (Kerry Washington) is finding the adoption process more frustrating than she imagined. Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits offer sympathetic male support as their maternal trials and tribulations unfold.
Samuel L Jackson
Though acting only as exec producer, there's no doubt that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is the biological father of this lofty drama from Rodrigo Garcia, deliverer of numerous small-screen babies from The Sopranos to his Emmy-nominated pilot for Big Love.
It even stars 21 Grams' Watts as Elizabeth, a lawyer who has conducted life on her own terms since her adoptive parents died in her teens. All she knows about her birth mother is that she had her when she was 14 and still lives in LA.
But we know it's Karen (Bening), a physical therapist who lives with her ailing mother and broods incessantly on the daughter she never knew. This makes her exceptionally difficult, as her saintly new colleague Paco (Smits) quickly discovers.
Odd that someone so obviously not a people person should pursue a career in caring (and then have someone else care for her own mum), but there you go.
Still, Elizabeth has clearly inherited Karen's controlling streak, as demonstrated when she whisks her wide-eyed and widowed new boss Paul (Jackson) to her boudoir.
It seems the breaking of the maternal bond has made both of them this way. Which, had she known either of them, might make childless Lucy (Washington) slightly less keen to adopt.
However, she and her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) are determined to go through the process as set out by Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones, 24) at the local Catholic-and-carry. Well, at least Lucy is. Joseph says so little it's hard to tell.
So it's all aboard the Hollywood maternity-go-round, with all its incumbent surprises, tragedies and contrivances. The acid test here is whether it makes you feel like calling your mum. Well, some might.
Made in 2009 as a bona fide Oscar botherer, Garcia's film failed to capture Academy voters' hearts, perhaps testing their collective patience with its self-indulgent running time and a score that could be marketed as Now That's What I Call Manipulative.
What's obvious is that Garcia doesn't possess Inarritu's grip on structure or time.
At some point, each narrative goes off for a meander (much time is spent on a blind character who serves no ultimate purpose) while other threads are either unfathomable (one pregnancy apparently waits for another to catch up) or left hanging (what happened to the case of the deliberately hidden knickers?).
Then after all the dawdling, Garcia scrunches the strands together in a knot of unconvincing, melodramatic twists. Pah.
Thankfully, the cast raise it above Hallmark standard, especially Jackson with a performance that proves he doesn't have to bring down great vengeance or furious anger to grab your attention.