First Hit: Some very strong acting especially in the first 2/3 of the film.
There is one prominent story and one side story. Either story would have made a really good film with additional background. In this film, one story is about a woman named Karen (played by Annette Bening) who is haunted by her decision to give up the baby she had at age 14.
This baby grows up with adoptive parents. At age 17 she goes out on her own, selects her own name, "Elizabeth" (played by Naomi Watts) and as we are introduced to her in the film she is a fully empowered bright lawyer who drifts from job to job. She is calculating, at times cold, always in charge of each situation and when feeling threatened by her own feelings or a situation she cannot control, she flies away.
She can be endearingly lovely and engaged yet turn right around and be spiteful just for the fun of it. Her biological mother, Karen, is caring for her aging mother Nora (played by Eileen Ryan), and is constantly wondering who and where her daughter is.
Every day she only thinks of the things she doesn’t have and the distance between herself and her mother. Her almost bedridden mother finds joy only in the cleaning lady Sofia (played by Elpidia Carrillo) and the cleaning lady’s daughter Cristi (played by Simone Lopez).
The level of acting, interaction of characters and story of Karen and her life slowly being awakened from the constant cloud of sadness by fellow physical therapist Paco (played Jimmy Smits) along with the story of Elizabeth and her interaction with her new boss Paul (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is more than enough to make a great film.
However, there is another good story which is about Lucy (played by Kerry Washington) and Joseph (played by David Ramsey) who cannot have a baby themselves because Lucy is infertile. They begin the quest to adopt a newborn by meeting a pregnant mother.
The young woman they meet is named Ray (played by Shareeka Epps) and she is very clear, wise in her young brash way and has very specific criteria about the kind of people she wants to adopt her unborn child. Although this story adds to and is integrated into the main story, both stories could have stood on their own, especially the first.
One of the themes running through both stories is that parenthood isn’t about blood as much as it is about the commitment of time one shows up to another. In this realm I can tell you from my own experience blood has little to do with being a parent.
Bening is nothing short of wonderful. She is pitch perfect in her movement from skittish, difficult, haunted, and sad to discovering she can trust love and the path of learning how to uncover the life residing within herself. Watts gives a powerful astonishing performance as a woman finding her way from toughness, singularly oriented, and alone to finding some openness in her heart to love another. Washington was good as a woman who wants to be a mother but has little clue as to what it takes. Jackson was very good as law firm owner and lover. Epps was extraordinary in her role as the young mother. Smits is superb as a patient man willing to wait for a woman to trust and see him as the beautiful spirit his character portrays. Rodrigo Garcia could have made two wonderful pictures out of this one had he played his cards right. The sub-story about adopting would have had to been beefed up some but it was there. The main story with the strong acting performances was enough to carry this film. Outside of this overreaching, he got wonderful performances from his actors.
Overall: The strong performances based off of a great story are the order of the day for this film despite it being a little over crowded.