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Review: Mother and Child

Director Rodrigo García's aching new film about absent mothers and absent children

These three principal characters never interact, never speak to one another — and yet their circumstances connect them profoundly.Their lives have a domino effect on one another. For the most part, García's characters are unsentimental and unconventional. But Karen's second-act transformation lapses into artifice. Jimmy Smits plays Paco, the love interest of the petulant, unlovable Karen. It's a contrived role that functions as an obvious plot device: He offers a redemptive, healing love that moves the story forward.

Less predictable is the discomfiting affair between Samuel L. Jackson's Paul and Elizabeth, who works for him. Karen and Paco's trajectory takes the well-worn route from antagonism to affection and doesn't ring true; Paul and Elizabeth's connection is original and honest and gratifyingly difficult.

In one of the film's most quietly illuminating scenes, Elizabeth appears at Paul's door in the middle of a family gathering. We see that his life is rich with comfortable family bonds, relatedness, and generosity. For the very capable Elizabeth it's like visiting a country she has never seen. And she can't begin to speak the language.

In less capable hands, Mother and Child would be little more than a maudlin soap opera. But García deepens the story with small moments that show the tenacity of familial bonds, the legacy of missed connections, and the saving graces that can come out of nowhere.

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