EDITORIAL: My top 10 movie mothers and their lessons
Well, Mother's Day has arrived and sons and daughters are likely scrambling to get their mom a gift at the last minute. Might I offer a suggestion? Invite her over, put in some quality time, and share a movie with them. Much like I did last year for Father's Day (full article here), I offer you a special editorial list in tribute to mothers. Matching the dozen flowers that better be on your mothers' desk or kitchen table this weekend, here are the twelve best movie mothers and their life lessons. Pick one of these movies up this weekend and make room for some of that quality time. You and your mom will appreciate it.
12. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) in The Kids Are All Right-- We'll start with a bundle of quirk right off the bate. Multiple Oscar nominee Annette Bening has sure played a mother or two (American Beauty, Running with Scissors, etc.), but maybe her best portrayal of a mother was as a lesbian alongside her partner, fellow multiple Academy Award nominee, Julianne Moore. They two of them took on children from a sperm donor (current Incredible Hulk, Mark Ruffalo) together and raised a pair of great kids (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska andThe Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson), but not without bumps along the way. (trailer)
THEIR BEST LESSON: MOTHERS ARE AS FLAWED AS THE REST OF US-- Though mothers may be looked up as perfect or make themselves out to be perfect, they are as flawed individuals as the rest of us. They make mistakes, have character flaws, and swings of emotion just like everyone else. We may put them on a pedestal, but they are level with us all.
11. (TIE)-- Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) from Mrs. Miniver and Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) from Mildred Pierce-- I'm going to group a pair of classic film mothers here with Greer Garson and Joan Crawford. You'll see Crawford in a different light later. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson plays a homefront middle-class mother who hold acts as the anchor and stabilizing force holding the family together in the midst of the early days of World War I. In Mildred Pierce, Crawford plays a mother abandoned by cheating husband but can't win the approval of her daughter. Kate Winslet just won accolades for a modern remake of Mildred Pierce on HBO. Both roles and movies are strong pre-Feminist movement mother examples from early cinema. (trailer and trailer)
THEIR BEST LESSON: MOTHERS ARE PROTECTIVE AND STABILIZING-- For two movies, this is two lessons wrapped into one. On one hand, mothers are incredibly protective individuals, no matter the animal species. The notion about instincts in that department are entirely true. In addition, mothers seem to be the glue that holds families together. Everybody loves mamma and everybody takes care of mom first, or at least they should.
10. Ms. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in The Manchurian Candidate-- Not all mothers on this list are "good." Angela Lansbury's ambitious, malicious, and manipulative mother will stop at nothing to see her son ascend politically. Plenty of mothers are crazy. This one (and later #2 on this list) proves it. And, yes, this is the same sweet Angela Lansbury from TV's Murder, She Wrote. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: MOTHERS CAN BE MEDDLESOME-- Whether we like it or not (and mostly not), mothers always want to be involved in our lives. On some level, there's nothing wrong with that. They're our mothers. They deserve that. They need to be our first phone call, our first friend, our trusted confidant. However, some mothers are just plain meddlesome and push for that involvement way too hard.
9. The ladies of the Joy Luck Club-- While this Wayne Wang film is particularly poignant for its truthful and non-stereotypical depiction of Asian and Asian-American women and families, its themes of positive motherly example, goals for one's children, and the lives given up by women to become mothers speaks across racial lines. (clip)
THEIR BEST LESSON: MOTHERS ARE EXAMPLES TO DAUGHTERS-- Putting aside "mama's boy" sons and "tomboys" for a moment, mothers are the number one influence on daughters throughout their entire life. The unity of gender starts that for sure. Just as fathers do the same for sons, mothers teach daughters to how to act, behave, present themselves, and flat-out become women. Many daughters grow to emulate their own mother while others become different examples to their own daughters in the next generation.
8. Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) in The Blindside-- Though she's a very good mother to her actual children, where Leigh Anne really makes a difference is when she takes in the wayward and fragile giant Michael Oher, a homeless black teen in Memphis. Through her guidance and assistance, Michael finds a good home and future as an NFL player. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: NON-BIOLOGICAL MOTHERS ARE STILL MOTHERS TOO-- You don't have to be a child's biological mother to make a maternal influence. There are outstanding step-mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, and "mother-figures" out there that improve upon what the child lacked in their lives. I may soon be following this editorial up with a sequel on "mother-figures," much like I did with the best movie father-figures a year ago (full article here).
7. Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) from Erin Brockovich-- To me, Julia Roberts' Erin Brockovich is the quintessential single mother for the modern day. Hard-working, never defeated, and never reluctant to handle the responsibilities of being a mother, Roberts' portrayal of the real-life ballsy legal assistant is inspiring. She more than deserved her Oscar. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: THE INCREDIBLE DIFFICULTIES FOR SINGLE MOTHERS-- If being a mother wasn't hard enough with a father and husband, try doing the job by yourself and still work to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. In my opinion, the single mother has the absolute hardest job in the entire world. Alaska can keep their crab fisherman.
6. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the Terminator series-- No mother is a bigger ass-kicker than Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor. Holding the fate of history and man's future resistance to the machines in her womb and then in her care, Sarah is a gun-totting protector and prophetic teacher and trainer for John Connor. The Sarah Connor character reaches her full pinnacle in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and really takes it to another level. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: MOTHERS ARE THEIR CHILDREN'S FIRST SURVIVALIST-- While Sarah Connor takes this to the highest possible degree, the essence of teaching survival is still true. From "Don't eat that!" to "Don't put that in your mouth!," mothers are their children's first survival teacher. Kidding asise, they really do miraculously keep their uninformed children alive and shed the layers of invincibility their children develop as the years go on.
5. Helen Parr/Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible (voiced by Holly Hunter) from The Incredibles-- One of the top 4 movie moms happens to be computer-generated. There have been many animated movie mothers, but none are better than Helan Parr, better known as Elastigirl or Mrs. Incredible. Not only is she a real mom dealing with marriage and children issues, she has superpowers. How cool is that? (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: MOTHERS HAVE TO BE FLEXIBLE-- Yes, I'm making a bit of a pun, but it's true, both physically and metaphorically. Mothers have to work high and low to wrangle rug-rats, juggle a career, and still be a wife and a woman. I don't know a more flexible type of person in this world than a working mother and, yes, stay-at-home mom is a full-time job. All of those women wear invisible capes.
4. Jackie Harrison (Susan Sarandon) from Stepmom-- Get your tissue boxes out for this one. Every mother wants their children to out-live them, but few mothers are OK with every being replaced. In Stepmom, Sarandon's ex-husband (Ed Harris) has found a new and younger woman (Julia Roberts) and can't handle that. To make matters worse, she isn't given long to live. Susan Sarandon's powerful performance can be found in the dictionary next to the word "grace." (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: MOTHERS CAN BE REPLICATED BUT NOT REPLACED-- Even though this may cancel out or balance opposite what I wrote for Sandra Bullock's character in The Blindside, true mothers are irreplaceable. There are plenty of circumstances, some good but mostly bad, why mothers are not in the picture for a child's life. While there are excellent non-biological parents out there (like The Blindside), there is absolutely no replacing a real mother, no matter how hard the replacement tries. That connection is too strong and too important.
3. M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field) from Steel Magnolias-- Yes, you knew this list would be dominated by chick flicks. Go ahead and keep those tissues out from Susan Sarandon and keep them around for Sally Field and Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias. I'm not spoiling it for anyone here (and also later with #1) when I say no mother wants to outlive her children. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: YOUR MOTHER IS YOUR FIRST BEST FRIEND-- Sure, dads may have a big role, but even small boys fall for the hugs and kisses of mom. For just about anyone, your first best friend is your mother. On the equal end of the spectrum, when people age, you, as her son or daughter, are likely her last best friend as well. Marinate on that one and give your mom a hug and a phone call this weekend.
2. Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) from Mommie Dearest-- One of the most memorable mother performances in cinema is a tough and evil one. Faye Dunaway portrays old movie star Joan Crawford (seen earlier on this list herself with Mildred Pierce) in this adaptation of Christine Crawford's memoirs about growing up under her strict control. Not to start the lesson early, but our mothers are likely are biggest critics in our lives. Few things we do are every good enough. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: MOTHERS WANT COMPLETE CONTROL-- Think your mother is insistent and controlling? Watch the absolute clinical strictness exhibited by Dunaway's Joan Crawford. Mothers, as both protectors and the unspoken head of a household, all want some level of control, either because, like Crawford, they have it in their professional lives, or lack it and want it where they can at home.
1. Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacClaine) from Terms of Endearment-- In the ultimate mother-daughter movie, Oscar winner Shirley MacClaine plays mother to Debra Winger whileTerms of Endearment chronicles their 30-year relationship searching for their individual true loves. Their movie story has all of the smothering, doting, ups, and downs that a real-life mother-daughter relationship has. Like Steel Magnolias, the hardest thing for a parent to deal with is the loss of a child. All of those previous movie mother lessons (best friend, meddlesome, protective, etc.) show up here in glorious fashion. (trailer)
HER BEST LESSON: MOTHERS STILL LONG FOR LOVE IN THEIR LIVES-- Many people think that just because a mother has a family in their life that their internal passion for love goes away, replaced by the parental form of love. That is very untrue. Underneath their role and responsibilities as mothers, they are still passionate women.
Once again, enjoy this article! Happy Mothers Day, everyone!