THERE'S NO SHORTAGE of racism and sexism in much of what Hollywood squeezes out, but it usually seems more lazy than malicious: kung fu-fighting Asian sidekicks, boy-addled blondes. Mother and Child distinguishes itself in that its bias is systemic, propelling all the plot's moving parts. This is a movie about the singular experience of motherhood, and the bond between mother and child. Its myopic view of that relationship, and its insistence that disaster results when that bond is severed, gives Mother and Child a staggeringly, offensively narrow view of the ways that women can define "family."

Mother and Child focuses on several women whose lives have been affected by adoption. (It will not surprise you to learn that their storylines ultimately overlap.) The film spares no cliché in pushing its biological agenda: every year, lonely middle-aged Karen (Annette Bening) celebrates the birthday of the child she gave up for adoption; her daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), raised motherless, grows into a sexually aggressive, emotionally distant lawyer prone to statements like, "Women find me threatening because I'm not in 'the sisterhood.'" (It soon becomes apparent that women find her threatening because she is actively trying to sleep with their husbands.) And then there's the infertile Lucy (Kerry Washington), desperate to adopt, whose husband leaves her midway through the adoption process, because he realizes that he wants a baby that is "his."

For all that adoption is the ostensible subject of Mother and Child, it's telling that the only successful adoption in this film takes place after the death of the birth mother. (And forget abortion—despite having her tubes tied, a maternal streak unexpectedly emerges when Elizabeth gets pregnant, and she rages at the doctor who dares suggest she terminate the pregnancy.) In every other case, adoption is a source of pain, guilt, resentment, and anger, as that singular, crucial relationship is violated. But the world is complicated; families are fluid; people are adaptable. These are true statements, true to the experiences of mothers and children, and Mother and Child makes no room for them.