Mommas Cloy: Bening (left) is the sweet spot in a syrupy movie. s Cloy: Bening (left) is the sweet spot in a syrupy movie.

Like other movies that operate along a six-degrees-of-separation tack (Magnolia and Babel are two of the better ones that come to mind), Mother and Child embraces the globalized “We are One” ethic. Unlike those other two movies, Mother and Child neither provokes nor engages. It is, and with apologies to my own beloved mother, the menopause movie of the summer. The action centers on a Catholic church where Sister Joan (Cherry Jones) runs an adoption service; by the end of the film, most of the characters will have passed through her clutches in one way or another. Joan takes delivery on unwanted babies; arranges interviews between teen mothers and barren couples; doles out her charges with the requisite “loving-kindness” and keeps tabs on their progress. Through a kind of musical-chairs approach, director Rodrigo García raises questions about what makes a child one’s own, and whether we can ever forgive ourselves for parting with the fruit of our loins. (This last rumination provides the movie’s most soapish strain.) Annette Bening is a brittle, jumpy, abrasive single woman who splits time between the hospital where she works and her home, where she ministers to her dying mother and snipes at the Hispanic help—in anguish, all the while, over the daughter she put up for adoption some three decades earlier. Jimmy Smits courts her with inexplicable persistence (he’s a sweetheart, and she treats him like shit). Despite the unconscionable lines she’s dealt, Bening is a high point in the film, matched in counterpoint by the slick, driven Naomi Watts, whose vampish emotional reserve echoes Bening’s for genetic reasons that become clear early in the proceedings. Samuel L. Jackson, appearing in a rare sex scene, plays a slightly more distinguished version of himself. (He’s Watts’ boss at a chi-chi L.A. law firm.) The cast is capable, but García deploys the abundant sentiment of his father, Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, with none of the latter’s wryness or lyricism; and the characters wear their emotions on their sleeves to the extent that their oververbalized epiphanies—cushioned by Ed Shearmur’s string arrangements—carry little impact. Amply funded and well-shot though it is, this is book-of-the-month club cinema.