Your Weekend at the Movies with Men, Babies, Mothers and Children

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05/07/2010 8:58 AM |

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Iron Man 2: Poor Iron Man is ready to take on his most dangerous foe, the dastardly villain Backlash! Do I mean Whiplash? Maybe, maybe not. I was too focused on using the word “dastardly” to notice. Also, there seems to be consensus building that Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man 1. I haven’t seen it, so this may very well be the case (although adding Sam Rockwell hardly every makes anything worse), but I do wonder if this is a case of people not remembering that Iron Man, while tons of fun, is not exactly a great movie. It seems possible that when people call the second movie disappointing, they’re more referring to its (potential) failure to represent a bigger and better model of what worked in the first movie, in the style of the beloved second installments in the X-Men and Spider-Man series (although I’d argue that the first X-Men is approximately as good as its excellent follow-up). Cheer up, nerds: an Iron Man 2 that isn’t as good as X2 better prepares you in the case that Iron Man 3 sinks to X-Men 3 levels. Which it probably won’t, due to lack of Ratner. Plus, I’m up for any superhero movie where the same cast would be exciting in a non-superhero movie.

Babies: I suppose it might be misleading to call this “baby porn,” huh? Maybe that means we should use it, just to kill the “[blank] porn” construction for good. I haven’t seen the full movie yet, but I have seen the trailer a few dozen times, and heard the oohs and sighs it elicits from audiences of all ages as footage of an international team of lethally cute babies unspools with merciless adorability. Basically, as a Mother’s Day present, you should go see this movie, swoon, go home and conceive those grandchildren your mom has been quietly wishing for. Sure, they’re expensive and unruly and potentially life-ruining, but… babies! So cute! Seriously, this movie is going to make bank. Can it outgross Iron Man 2? No… not at first. Can it make $40 million a weekend for the next thirty weekends? MAYBES!

Mother and Child: Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia has been blessed with sensitivity to how women live their everyday lives. In ensemble pieces like Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her and Nine Lives, he wrote almost exclusively for women, interconnecting moments of low-key anguish, disappointment, and revelation. His new film, Mother and Child, zooms in on three women: a middle-aged nurse (Annette Bening), a frosty lawyer (Naomi Watts), and a young professional (Kerry Washington) looking to adopt a child with her husband. All three stories are about motherhood, though only the Washington thread is clear about it from the top. Narrowing his focus to Bening, Watts, and Washington (with strong support from Samuel L. Jackson as Watts’s boss and Jimmy Smits as Bening’s warm coworker) seems like an ideal moment for Garcia’s breakthrough, but it turns out that spending more time with his characters means he can’t cut away before the stories drift into melodrama. He’s so sensitive, in fact, so attuned to his prickly creations, that the mood becomes almost oppressive: hushed, morose, and oddly formal. Garcia is at his best when quietly observing, but when his characters address conflicts directly, the dialogue turns weird and stagy. Washington brings a bit of natural rhythm to her character’s desperation, and Watts has the advantage of remoteness (her coldest scenes are her most fascinating), but the more stilted and contrived moments do no favors to Bening. Her slightly cartoonish demeanor—downturned mouth, coiled body language—was put to far better use in American Beauty, large-scale critical re-evaluation be damned. Mother and Child is obviously intended as a complex, nuanced alternative on a weekend that usually brings us the likes of Monster-in-Law, but in its weakest moments, it’s more like Arthouse Lifetime.