Mother’s Day viewing: What to watch (or avoid watching) with Mum
By Greg Bruce and Zanna Gillespie
May 13, 2023
Mister D: OMG, these movies we’re given to choose from for Mother’s Day! They sure aren’t celebratory of the best moms in cinematic history, but I know they are out there. But I wanted to focus on mom’s Bette Midler had played. I started going through her roles and I thought Oy!. Barbara Whiteman? Too self-absorbed.
.Ah, but Stella? A mother who loved her daughter so much and wanted her to have a better life than she did that she staged a horrible situation she knew would make her daughter flee into the arms of her rich, loving father and his new wife, who could give her the life she deserved. Even with a great cast and Bette Midler, who was always better than her movies, this updated version of Stella Dallas. Bette’s movie just made it too easy for everybody unite at any point in their lives. But I would watch Stella with my mom. Bette played a selfless mother who would do anything for the betterment of her daughter.
I’d give some props to C,C, Bloom, Dixie in For The Boys, Brenda in The First Wives Club, and even Bernice in Then She Found Me. But here are your choices for Mother’s Day.
Kramer vs Kramer
The gender politics in Kramer vs Kramer are surprisingly complex for a film from the 1970s. I anticipated I’d feel outraged at the villainization of Joanna Kramer, the mother who walks out on her husband and 5-year-old son, only to return 18 months later to petition for custody, but instead, I was reminded that this truly heart-wrenching film handles Joanna’s mental health crisis and likely undiagnosed post-natal depression with nuance and sensitivity. Of course, you could argue the film suggests that a man could do all the things a mother traditionally does and still she would get custody in a court of law, but ultimately I think it honors a woman’s need to be a fully realized person and not only a mother.
Available to rent on Apple TV.
Television’s most memorable mother in recent years is undoubtedly the inimitable Moira Rose. Equal parts loving matriarch and truly dreadful mother, Catherine O’Hara is pitch-perfect as the seemingly self-obsessed, washed-up soap star with a nonsensical pretentious accent. She doesn’t know her daughter’s middle name, can’t take care of a “bebe” to save herself – “Isn’t it scheduled to be dormant by now?” – and says outrageous things to her children like, “We have no interest in what’s going on with you” and “David! Stop acting like a disgruntled pelican.” When asked, “Didn’t you once take the wrong baby home from preschool?” Moira shouts “Alexis looked Chinese as an infant! How many times must I defend myself?” But under all the flamboyant wigs, preposterous outfits and shameless self-promotion, Moira Rose’s love for her family is never truly in doubt.
Streaming on Netflix.
The Broadway musical Gypsy, and its subsequent screen adaptations, is likely responsible for giving us the term “stage mother”. Rose Hovick is a woman determined to mold her daughter into the Vaudeville star she wishes she had been. Bette Midler does it best in the 1993 telemovie. Her unhinged monologue in the final act in which she claims her burlesque superstar daughter, Gypsy Rose Lee, has no talent except “talent for the deaf, dumb and blind, maybe” is unparalleled narcissistic lunacy: “I made you and you wanna know why? Because I was born too soon and started too late.” Any mother, or parent, who has ever felt like they pushed their child a little too far will feel positively negligent by comparison.
Available to rent on Apple TV and Google Play (1962 version only).
Whether or not the mother character in this film will be as iconic as the actor who plays her remains to be seen but it made it onto my list because the woman behind the camera, our own Niki Caro, is an aspirational ass-kicking mother herself, who’s proving that mothers can make violent action blockbusters as well as any man. The film, released yesterday, stars Jennifer Lopez as a deadly assassin who comes out of hiding to protect the 12-year-old daughter she gave up at birth. She’s extremely ripped and will do anything to protect her baby girl including teaching her how to be a lean, mean, killing machine just like her mum. Think Cocaine Mother Bear.
Streaming on Netflix.
On the surface, nothing could be less uplifting Mother’s Day viewing than this story of a woman who has been abducted and kept for seven years in a soundproof room, where she gives birth to, and raises, the son of her abductor and rapist. When the film opens, she is seven years into her ordeal and spends most of her energy trying to make the situation seem normal for her son. She masterminds their ingenious escape, at which point you’d be forgiven for thinking the movie’s about to take an upbeat turn. The message, ultimately, is positive – love conquers all – but it’s a heck of a journey to get there. A good watch if you’re in a bit of a funk, or would like to be.
Available to rent on Apple TV and Google Play.
Juno is the story of a teenage girl who gets pregnant in a typically awkward encounter with Michael Cera and must then decide first whether or not to have the baby, and then whether or not to have the baby adopted out. The movie features three types of mothers, all of them non-traditional: the pregnant girl who doesn’t want her baby, her stepmother and the baby’s prospective adoptive mother. The three of them encircle the concept of motherhood as typically represented by Hollywood, and blast it into the 21st century, via some of the sharpest and funniest dialogue ever written.
Streaming on Disney+.
A movie that captures with remarkable power the everyday awfulness we visit on our mothers, often for no other reason than they’re there. Both Lady Bird and her mother are, at times, easy to dislike, which is the point. At one point, Lady Bird says, “I just wish you liked me,” to which her mother replies, “Of course I love you,” to which Lady Bird replies, “But do you like me?” Who among us has not felt the truth of this conversation, from both sides, in regard to those closest to us? In the end though, as it usually does, love wins.
Streaming on Prime Video.
The most famous and messed-up mother-son relationship in movie history features a mother who is long dead and a son who thinks he’s her while killing people. Imagine your conflicting thoughts if you were the mother of the man who made this movie, one of the most lauded films of all time, but clearly the product of a mentally disturbed, possibly by your parenting. Do you celebrate your son’s prodigious achievement and your part in it, or do you get him straight to a treatment facility? In the case of Alfred Hitchcock’s mother, it didn’t matter; at the time of Psycho’s release, she’d been dead 18 years.
Available to rent on Apple TV and Google Play.