It was with an odd yet painful fascination that I watched the film Precious last year. Mo’Nique’s portrayal of the title character’s mother, which won her an Oscar, was a little too much for my sheltered, suburban mind to bear. Who mothers like that, exactly?
However, if you get out to the movies on a regular basis, or even irregularly, then you know that bad mothers — and stepmothers — on the big screen are hardly news.
The trailer for Natalie Portman’s upcoming film, The Other Woman, seems to depict in 2:19 minutes that she marries the man who was married already when they got together, and the child born unto them later dies, probably because she was a bad woman, mother and/or simply a stepmother, or all three.
There are whispers that the actresses who play strong (domineering, murderous, smoldering) mother characters in this year’s crop of critically acclaimed films could walk away with Oscar gold, like Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, and Barbara Hershey in Black Swan, according to The Daily Beast.
Of course bad mothers and stepmothers are not unique to the past few years. Disney has been guilty of bad parenting since it started making animated films. In some cases, parents and stepparents submit their offspring to slavery and are occasionally willing to actually kill them (or concoct convoluted plans to have them poisoned and maimed) to advance their own causes, or even just to be known as the fairest in the land. If the mothers or stepmothers haven’t been bad, then they just die, leaving their babies to their own devices, like poor Bambi, Dumbo and all 101 of those pathetic little Dalmatians who are kidnapped and forced to live with Cruella de Vil.
Julia Roberts was the bad guy in Stepmom (although she was ultimately redeemed, mostly because she’s Julia Roberts). Shelly Long neglected Drew Barrymore emotionally when she hit the big time in Irreconcilable Differences. Shirley MacLaine appears to be the root cause of Debra Winger’s cancer in Terms of Endearment. And don’t even get me started on Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer.
I suppose there aren’t a larger number of nurturing, loving mothers in film because nice and easy doesn’t sell as well as crazy and crazy. After all, The Brady Bunch movies didn’t do that well at the box office. And the reality is, more people than not probably have more serious issues with their mothers, and Hollywood is nothing if not good at picking up and running with the things that sometimes previously only lived inside of our wildest dreams or lurked in the dregs of our worst nightmares.
Watching these movies have always been part horror film, part eye opener to me, particularly since I admire and adore my own mother til kingdom come, and feel beyond fortunate to count her as my first, best, and at times, only friend. I also watch these films and try to take mental notes of how to not screw up my daughter. Although sometimes I think that as long as we make it a policy to keep wire hangers out of the house, we’ll all be fine.
Do you think Hollywood has a bee in its bonnet where mothers are concerned?
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