It’s time for Thursday movie picks! This week we’re covering movies featuring mother-daughter relationships, which means I for one have been through about 6 boxes of tissues while deciding which are my absolute favourites. Thanks once again to spectacular blogger Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting this weekly meeting of the minds.
While I’m relieved not to be watching live-action fairy tales or YA movies anymore, this was harder than I thought. About a month ago, I had no trouble making a list of classic father-son dynamics but to mother-daughter relationships- that call for not one but two great roles for women- are a little harder to find in Hollywood.
Mamma Mia! At first, my strategy was to name as many Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton movies as I could. This only got me a third of the way there when I remembered Mamma Mia!, the only American movie on my list. Judge me all you want but I love this musical. Yes, the cast was clearly chosen for their comic timing and definitely not their singing voices but their energy with the help of lots of Abba music make this a party I wish I was at. When searching for the father she never knew, a 20 year-old soon-to-be bride comes to realize how little she appreciated the mother who brought her up all by herself.
Jay: Consider yourself judged, Matt.
The Piano Teacher The dynamic between mother and daughter can be as messed up as any and who better to explore just how bad it can get than Austrian director Michel Hanake. Never afraid to make his audience squirm, Hanake (Funny Games) cast Annie Giradot as a mom that makes Carrie’s look permissive. Isabelle Huppert plays a forty-something pianist who shares not only an apartment but a bed with her controlling, perfectionist, and manipulative mother. All this withholding and repression leads to some pretty bizarre behaviour when the daughter meets a young man that she can’t help but be attracted to. Watching it can be an uncomfortable experience but it’s never dull and is sure to inspire lively discussions- even debates.
Volver Penelope Cruz got her first Oscar nomination for Pedro Almodovar’s 2006 Spanish comedy-drama. Carmen Maura plays mother to both Cruz and Lola Duenas, seemingly back from the dead to seek the forgiveness of her estranged daughter. There’s some serious stuff here but Volver is also surprisingly funny. It’s a hard film to categorize but an easy one to love.
Terms of Endearment – I saw this movie for the first time yesterday and right away I wondered how I had not seen it before. The opening credits contain so many recognizable names and everyone lives up to expectations. It is not an easy movie to watch because it seems so real. It’s not often a happy movie but it’s so genuine and for that reason above all else I think it will stick with me for a while. I highly recommend it to anyone else who hasn’t seen it.
Spanglish I didn’t even realize until now that this was also written and directed by James L. Brooks (just like Terms of Endearment). Score two for him because this movie is also fantastic. Like Terms of Endearment, it is also not very happy but comparing these movies is a disservice to both. Spanglish stands on its own as a story of true love and sacrifice. Just don’t watch these two movies back to back as you may never recover from all the heartbreak.
Jay: I can’t believe I let you do this one! I love Spanglish because their cultural isolation really pits the two of them against the world. Even when they occasionally hate each other, they’re still each other’s entire universe, and when other options start to present themselves, this mother is prepared to make the hard choices. You know this movie gets me every time, to see how close the mother gets to love and fulfillment but turns her back on it because she knows it’s best for her daughter.
Freaky Friday (1976) The third slot was a tough one because while I watched several other mother-daughter movies this week, I felt the other tearjerkers didn’t hit the mark. I went another way. I have to make 100% clear that this is the original Freaky Friday, not the remake. I did not see this movie as a kid, mainly because I confused it with the Friday the 13th series and horror movies terrified me. It’s very dated but it’s fun to see a young Jodie Foster try to act like a regular kid and then do a very accurate impression of herself as adult who happens to be pretending to be a regular kid.
I’m having a tough time paring down this list. I watched Autumn Sonata (Ingrid fucking Bergman!) which succeeds in being uncomfortable and intense despite subtitles. And I watched Imitation of Life, which pitted parenting styles against each other with equally depressing results. And I watched Because I Said So because frankly, how could I not? As Matt pointed out, Diane Keaton is just screaming to be on this list, and this film with 3 sisters and a meddling mother is a comforting exercise in voyeurism. And Pixar’s Brave – I love the circularity in that relationship, the growth experienced by both women and the understanding that comes with it. And The Kids Are All Right – there’s so much here in terms of a family coming to terms with shifting roles, and it’s striking how much the two mothers complement each other. And Sherrybaby. And Easy A (love Patricia Clarkson in that!). And Anywhere But Here. And Mother and Child. Nothing like a major health crisis to flush out your Netflix queue!
But fuck it. Steel Magnolias, baby. There, I said it. It’s goopy and sentimental but you know what? The relationship at its core, Sally Field and Julia Roberts, feels absolutely genuine. Julia Roberts plays a young woman with diabetes, and Sally Field the constantly-worried mother. Both are headstrong but you can tell that Mom is secretly proud that her daughter is determined not to let her illness stop her from living on her own terms. Sally Field will give anything, including body parts, to keep her daughter going, but when the worst happens, the grief and anger are palpable and real. For my money, Sally Field talking to her comatose daughter is just about the most heart-wrenching tribute to motherhood you’re apt to find.
And Mermaids. I can’t help it. The family situation reminds me so much of my own – just a mom and her girls on their own in the world. It’s not always easy, or friendly. When you fight you fight big, but you love big too. And the dancing in the kitchen: yes! I love Cher’s awkward stabs at motherhood – the funny little food and the ill-timed advice – and Christina Ricci’s weird little pumpkin-headed wiggles.
Now Voyager is the ultimate in family dysfunction. A hateful and over-bearing mother stifles her daughter (played by the inesteemable Bette Davis) into a nervous breakdown that turns out to be her weird salvation. Of course, upon return, the now glammed up and self-assured daughter is again reduced to a puddle in the face of her unfeeling mother.
INGRID FUCKING BERGMAN INDEED!!!
Love the range of picks here, as always. Love The Piano Teacher showing up, and Mermaids! Now Voyager is also a great pick. Spanglish!
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You sir, are a savant of the exclamation mark. Love it! Come back, always. Always!
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I had a look at Steel Magnolias as well, but I went with Terms on Endearment instead. I hardly knew anything about Terms of Endearment until I watched it so I quite surprised by the film’s final act.
and I have to agree with Matt, this was slightly harder than father-son relationships because a limited number of great female roles especially in comparison to males, all these films certainly passed the Bechdel Test.
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It was so hard for me to think of movies with a great role for both the mother and daughter that I almost had to go with The Sixth Sense, a movie where we never actually see the mother. But the closure that Toni Colette gets over the loss of her mother from speaking to her son that Sees Dead People in one of the movie’s final scenes makes me cry every time. My favourite scene in the movie- even better than the gotcha ending.
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Matt, that’s actually really kind of touching and brilliant.
Ahah, I knew someone was gonna pick Mama Mia but hey, regardless of the movie’s silly-ness, it is a good example of mother/daughter relationship in movies. I was considering Mermaids too, great picks overall!
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Thanks, Ruth! I think we all came up with some good stuff here. Good week. Good hustle, gang! 😉
Ohh The Piano Teacher, nice call on that one! I actually liked Mamma Mia so I have no room to judge lol. Great picks!
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Oh you’re allowed to like it, and you’re definitely allowed to judge anyway! 😉
Thanks for not judging, Brittani. I liked your picks too and came very close to picking Carrie myself but, having already picked The Piano Teacher, I didn’t want to overdo it with domineering mother horror stories.
Wow a lot of great picks. I haven’t seen The Piano Teacher but it sounds intriguing. I liked but didn’t love Mamma Mia!, Volver and Spanglish-although I did love Cloris Leachman in the last. Mermaids is such a quirky sweet little film and fits Cher like a glove. The original Freaky Friday is definitely the best version not just Jodie but Barbara Harris was so wonderful as the mom.
Now the gold, I saw Terms of Endearment in a packed theatre originally and I can’t even tell you how many people were weeping by the end and I don’t mean crying I’m talking SOBBING. I wasn’t one of the cryers but it is tremendously moving with such great work from the whole cast. Now, Voyager is an awesome pick, what a toxic relationship and the acting duel that Bette and Gladys Cooper put on couldn’t be better. I picked Steel Magnolias as my extra pick because I thought it would pop up on almost every list but I was wrong, just a few. The relationship between all the women is great but the success of the film hinges on Sally and Julia. Julia’s very good but Sally is just amazing.
Glad you mentioned Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata. I considered the film but aside from her I didn’t like the movie that much but she’s a knockout in it. Since it was almost the end of the line for her it’s such a shame that she didn’t win the Oscar for it, I’m guessing the one she received for Murder on the Orient Express, a perfectly fine piece of work but not award worthy, cost this one which was wholly deserved.
Here’s mine for this week:
Gypsy (1962)-Musicalized version of Gypsy Rose Lee’s youth, life in vaudeville and growing up on the road as part of her sister Baby June’s act and her relationship with the biggest stage mother of them all, Mama Rose. Mama Rose is so consumed with ambition that her daughters are going to be stars that she’s do almost anything and ride over anyone in her mad drive. Great music, terrific performances by Rosalind Russell as a megalomaniac of gigantic proportions and Natalie Wood as the at first complacent daughter who finally declares her independence.
Mildred Pierce (1945)-Noirish study of a woman locked into a masochistic relationship with her grasping selfish daughter which drives her to the heights of success only to find emptiness and betrayal. Joan Crawford won an Oscar as the career woman whose slavish devotion to her pit viper of a daughter proves her undoing. Ann Blyth, Eve Arden (both Oscar nominated) Jack Carson (who should have been) and Zachary Scott lend excellent support.
Stella Dallas (1937)-A story of the ultimate in motherly sacrifice. Stella, played by Barbara Stanwyck in an amazing performance, is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks-a loud, vulgar but loving woman who meets and falls for a man from the upper class. They marry, have a daughter and split up shortly after, the bulk of the film is devoted to the strong relationship of Stella and her daughter Laurel. Stanwyck’s last scene is a piece of great movie acting.
Honorable mention-Steel Magnolias (1989)-Equally headstrong mother (Sally Field) and daughter (Julia Roberts) butt heads through the years as the mother worries over the daughter’s fragile health and the girl fights to live life on her own terms all the while surrounded by a close-knit group of woman friends who meet regularly at Truvy’s beauty salon. Funny and sad just like life this has a strong message about the value of friendship and the mother/daughter bond.
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Mildred Pierce, yes yes yes!
I’m not sure how I would have handled TofE in a crowded theatre. No doubt I would have been one of the sobbers myself; I often find that I have to sit in my seat a while to compose myself .
And Barbara Stanwyck? OMG!
Love how much variety is here. Glad to see Spanglish get so much love. Solid movie. I saw Steel Magnolias years ago and was thoroughly depressed afterwards. The Piano Teacher sounds bananas in a good way. Need to queue that up.
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Bananas in a good way – I think you should let that review stand as it is!
Great post! I didn’t think about Mamma Mia! That’s a good pick. And Volver is a terrific choice.
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Yes to Volver! And yes, there are definitely some funny bits in there.
I know I’ve watched Because I Said So but I can’t remember anything from the movie.
I’m sort of pissed I went Terms of Endearment and didn’t think of Spanglish, another great one from old Jim Brooks. Paz Vega is the shit! While we’re on Latinas, Penelope Cruz rocked it in Volver as well. Great flick! Mermaids is the winner here though! Nice one, Jay!
I think it’s kind of funny that so many of us are mad we forgot about Spanglish! I guess while great minds think alike, we gap together too. That’s comforting. Sort of.
OMG, I barely watched any of them. I only noticed Mamma Mia and Freaky Friday, the remake version tho. Those words, you know, attract me to try to watch. Good job, guys!
Great picks! Totally forgot about Spanglish! I liked Foster in Freaky Friday, she was good. I was supposed to go with Mamma Mia, but I used it for a different category (I try to avoid repeating movies in other categories).
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Mermaids is very funny, and it’s an underrated film!
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Nice choices, especially Volver, Now, Voyager, & Terms of Endearment. My favorite of all is the 1996 Mike Leigh film Secrets & Lies. The two leads are perfect, in challenging roles.
Awesome list. I enjoyed Spanglish movie and I think I can watch it again with my mom while she is here 🙂 great review again jay!
My youngest daughter is 29. We loved and still watch ofyen, great fun and good actors in “13 going on 30” we like mark Ruffalo in this one. (I have a brother who loves Jen Garner and his fave is “the invention of lying” (she is adorable and so gullible in that one with Ricky Gervais.)
Pride and prejudice is lovely and recent girls movie was Far from the Madding Crowd. I liked original with Julie Christy.
all time fave for my two daughters us the Notebook.
Our holiday movie for the girls is Love Actually. We also enjoy The Holiday.
your post had good, older classic chick flicks:)