Left to Right: Annette Bening as Karen and Simone Lopez...

Left to Right: Annette Bening as Karen and Simone Lopez as Cristi in " Mother and Child" Credit: Sony Pictures Classics Photo/

The warped acorn doesn't fall far from the twisted tree in "Mother and Child," Rodrigo García's emotionally confused, tripartite drama about women and their wombs. Given the relaxed open-mindedness with which society has come to accept various sorts of unorthodox families, "Mother and Child" seems more than a bit retrograde: If a child is given up for adoption, do multiple generations automatically suffer? That would seem to be the view of García (son of Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez), who harbors a surprisingly doctrinaire view of nature vs. nurture.

His principal character, Karen (Annette Bening), remains an emotional cripple 37 years after she gave up Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), who has grown up to be a powerhouse lawyer and a woman so emotionally arctic that it's hard to accept that anyone - much less her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) - would get romantically involved with her. While Elizabeth exhibits a penchant for gratuitous cruelty, Karen strives to alienate the one man (Jimmy Smits) ready to befriend her. Since the women have never met, the viewer becomes more curious about the mysterious misery gene they seem to share, rather than the hellishness the movie associates with adoption.

Meanwhile, the childless Lucy (Kerry Washington) is hoping a pregnant 20-year-old with her own knotty issues (the wonderful Shareeka Epps) will pick Lucy to be the mother of the child she doesn't want to keep. The general message: Unless you're living with your biological mother and father, you're in a pile o' trouble.

García exhibits a gift for juggling disparate narratives, and his actresses are OK. But given the rarity of a movie about female psychology, one wonders whether he really needed the proselytizing subtexts, or the nailing of motherhood to the cross.

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