Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA/Spain, 2009. Everest Entertainment, Cha Cha Chá Films, Mockingbird Pictures. Screenplay by Rodrigo Garcia. Cinematography by Xavier Perez Grobet. Produced by Lisa Maria Falcone, Julie Lynn. Music by Ed Shearmur. Production Design by Christopher Tandon. Costume Design by Susie DeSanto. Film Editing by Steven Weisberg. Toronto International Film Festival 2009. Independent Spirit Awards 2010.
The multi-strand narrative begins with a teenager giving birth after getting into trouble with her high school boyfriend. We then fast-forward to thirty seven years later, where a lonely and bitter health care worker (Annette Bening) lives with her mother and writes a diary to the baby she gave up for adoption against her will. We also meet Naomi Watts as a woman who has cut herself off from her adoptive mother and concentrates solely on her ambition to get ahead as a corporate lawyer, and Kerry Washington as a woman whose difficulty conceiving has brought her to the arduous process of trying to adopt. Rodrigo Garcia has an incredible talent for bringing out the nuances and subtleties of the actors he directs, particularly in showing the way women relate to each other, but this film is not up to the standard of Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her. It begins with sympathy and strength, particularly in the time it spends allowing Bening to create a fully-rounded character whose journey is the most interesting (and least melodramatic) of the three, and it benefits from Garcia’s penchant for creating a true sense of intimacy. Where it goes in its journey to completion, however, veers towards the trite: it is already difficult to accept Watts as a real person given how much effort the screenplay puts into making her challenging. She’s often just rude, as often as Bening is unappealingly neurotic, and making women “difficult” by having them be sexually aggressive borders on the offensive (furthermore, her outcome seems more judgmental than tragic). You get the impression that these women’s lives are being narrated by someone who doesn’t like them or, in Washington’s case, doesn’t care, and that makes it uncomfortable to sit through to the end.