Tag Archives: mother daughter movies

TIFF: Lady Bird

ladybird_01In making a coming of age film about a high school student, Greta Gerwig has come into her own – as a writer, as a director, as a woman with a voice.

Lady Bird is the name that Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has given herself. It’s her senior year of high school and all she wants is out. Out of Sacramento, out of her parents’ house, out of her own skin which doesn’t quite seem to fit anymore. Like most teenagers, Lady Bird is kind of a d-bag. She thinks she knows more than any adult she’s ever met. She’s self-centered and blind to the needs of others, but in the sympathetic hands of Ronan, we don’t hate her and we certainly never tire of her. Her flaws should push us away but instead they endear us – maybe even remind us of ourselves at that age.

Her relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is relatable as heck and among the best I’ve ever seen written or performed on the big screen. Their relationship is a series of clashes between pragmatism and whimsy. Lady Bird doggedly indulges one artistic pursuit after another while her mother does the precarious high-wire act of balancing the needs of an entire family. Ronan and Metcalf are incredible together, the chemistry is electric and complicated and feels so real you’ll intermittently want to send your mother a fruit bouquet of thanks, and a nasty hate letter condemning her every decision. Or was that just me?

But the real kicker is that Lady Bird is not just a mother-daughter movie. Lady Bird’s life is full of characters and it’s amazing how fully realized they all are. We spend time with her father, her brother, her best friend, and several love interests, and Gerwig’s fabulous writing doesn’t lose sight of a single one of them. And her cast – her cast! Have I said yet that Saoirse Ronan is a vision and she brings so much to the role and this is truly the best I’ve ever seen her? Fun fact: she and Greta first met at TIFF two years ago, and Gerwig couldn’t imagine the role going to anyone else. And even though the writing is so, so good, and the character is absolute perfection on the page, Ronan just makes it even better. Even wonderfuller.

And Metcalf. This is such a great role and she really makes it her own: loving, frustrated, conflicted, supportive, scathing. Goddamn. She plays opposite Tracy Letts, who plays her husband and Lady Bird’s dad. He’s the good cop parent but not without his own challenges – believe me, the script does not neglect him. Lois Smith, Timothee Chalamet, and Lucas Hedges all help bring Lady Bird’s world into bold, bright, living colour while also contributing a little of their own. I’m telling you, this has got to be a contender for best script. The layers are many and I have never wanted to peel anything faster in my life! For my money, though, the lovely, luminous Beanie Feldstein has got to be the breakout star here. She plays Lady Bird’s BFF Julie. Don’t mistake her for a second banana. She may have shades of wallflower but she never gives you a second to discount her.

Lady Bird is absolutely one to watch, so do.

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Snatched

This film was dismally received by critics but is not as terrible as you might think. A lot will depend on how you tolerate Amy Schumer. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I like her quite a bit, which makes me realize that she’s not anyone’s cup of tea, she’s more like a beloved Jaeger bomb. Some people don’t like or expect raunch from a female comedian but Amy Schumer’s proving that anyone can tell a gross-out joke. Score for feminism? Let’s say yes.

Of course Amy Schumer isn’t some new fangled-thing, she’s riding in on the backs of lots of incredibly funny women and Goldie Hawn is one of them. Hawn hasn’t appeared in a maxresdefaultmovie in 15 years and having her back is a blessing. Pairing these two together is great. It should have been better than great, I’ll grant you that. It should have been phenomenal. But Snatched isn’t ambitious. It’s pretty content to be a so-so movie with a bare-bones plot, some badly-drawn characters, and some overly convenient structures. It’s basically a vehicle for some jokes, and for some shining chemistry between Schumer and Hawn. If you can live with that, then you may just find something to chuckle about in Snatched.

As you may have gathered from the trailer, or heck, even just the poster, Emily (Schumer) gets broken up with right before an nonrefundable trip to Ecuador, and persuades her cautions mum Linda (Hawn) to travel with her. Emily meets a guy who’s too good to be true, and he is! He’s part of a kidnapping ring, and before you can say “maitai”, Emily and her Mom are hog-tied in a blood-splattered cell, begging for their lives, or at least their cell phones back.

The worst I’ll say about the movie is that there’s a lot of missed opportunity. It’s unfocused and flimsy. But Goldie Hawn is still magic. She sparkles up there on the big screen, and it’s kind of cool to see her taking her place as one of the matriarchs of comedy.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Dee Dee Blancharde had had a rough go: displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she was the sole care-giver for her severely disabled daughter, Gypsy Rose. Gypsy’s diagnoses were many: epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer, chromosomal and developmental defects. She was confined to a wheel chair, fed by a tube, often breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. She endured frequent surgery and chronic pain. She was brain damaged and stuck at the intellectual age of 7. Dee Dee, devoted to her daughter, didn’t work. They accepted charity in the form of a house from Habitat for Humanity, met Miranda Lambert through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, got free trips to Disney World, Gypsy’s favourite. Kindly neighbours pitched in what they could; the Blanchardes were community fixtures, and well-liked. Then one day Dee Dee’s Facebook status read “That bitch is dead” and when police investigated, they found her stabbed to death in bed. Gypsy was nowhere to be found.

This case caught my eye at the time and I read about it extensively. It turns out that MV5BZGI5Nzg5YzktOGQ5NS00MGJhLWI4MWUtODQxZGE1MGQxYWMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0OTQxMDQ@._V1_Gypsy was never sick, wasn’t even paralyzed. She had endured years of abuse, via ‘Munchausen by proxy,’ a condition wherein a caregiver fakes and actually induces health problems in their child in order to gain sympathy and attention for themselves. Gypsy, armed with a secret internet boyfriend, had had enough, and plotted her mother’s murder.

Mommy Dead and Dearest is a shocking documentary that explores this case in depth. People who knew them were shocked to see Gypsy Rose walking unassisted, and wondered how much she herself had been in on the deception. But even Gypsy Rose didn’t know her true age, or the extent of her health problems. Many of the medications given her to treat fake illnesses gave her real, troubling side effects. The documentary follows her trip through the justice system and asks us whether we must consider her to be a cold-hearted perpetrator, or a victim who finally fought back. Director Erin Lee Carr lets the story tell itself, giving the narrative time and space to unfold itself, deftly answering questions before we even ask them. This case is so astonishing that Carr’s guidance is particularly necessary, yet her presence is minimally felt. I was completely fascinated and absorbed by the story, and I bet you will be too.

August: Osage County

Truth tellers: every family has one. They say mean shit and then hide behind its being “the truth” as if no harm ever came from telling the truth. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that the truth can be painful, can be private, and can be left unsaid. And as humans with emotional intelligence and self-control, we have no excuse not to hold back. My grandmother is a truth-teller, often leaving hurt feelings in the wake of her “plain-spokenness”.  I don’t always understand what has kept my grandparents together for 66 years (well, okay, probably Catholicism, and good old fashioned not believe in divorce), but my grandmother is not a pill-popper and my grandfather is not a suicidal alcoholic. So there’s that.

When Bev (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) rallies the troops. Daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is already there, always there, but it’s favoured daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) who really matters, who will make everything better when she arrives.

Favourites: every family has these too. Maybe it’s the one who reminds you most of yourself, or maybe the complete opposite. And maybe it changes over time, favouring the best achiever, and then the one who produces the most grandchildren, and then favouring the one who sticks closest to home. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason but we do seem to agree that we must never, ever admit it out loud. But your kids know, just the same as you knew it of your parents. It’s the way of life. Most people are just pretty good at being diplomatic about it.

Violet’s not. Violet’s pretty nasty about it. Ivy is the good one, but Barb is the favourite. Karen (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t really even figure, but it’s mostly nice when she shows up. And she does show up eventually, because her father’s bloated body is fished out of the river and now it’s not his disappearance they’re dealing with, it’s his death. The dynamic between the sisters is fragile, and with Violet twisted with grief and pills, she lets her truth flag fly. And you know how gets caught in the crossfire? Everyone.

The passing on of pain: Violet and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) were abused by their mother. Violet is so self-righteous about her own pain that she can’t fathom the pain she causes others, or she doesn’t think it rates. Violet is cruel to her daughters, and Mattie Fae can’t seem to stand her son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). That’s the way abuse works, it trickles down the generations. Is Barb messing up her own daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin)? She’s suffering too.

Family secrets: What’s a family without its secrets? Maybe secrets are the cement that hold us all together. Only Ivy and Charles know they’re in love, despite being cousins. Only Mattie Fae knows that Ivy and Charles aren’t cousins, they’re siblings. Only Barb and her husband (Ewan McGregor) know they’re separated. Only the devoted nursemaid knows what Karen’t fiance is trying to do with Barb’s young daughter. And only Violet knows that Bev’s death was actually a suicide.

You’ve got to have nerves of steel to get through August: Osage County. The family drama is raw as fuck. But Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredibly strong performances amid a top-notch cast that never puts so much as a baby toe wrong. It’s note perfect, it’s just not pretty. A lifetime of pain is more poisonous than all the pills in the world. This film, based on a brilliant play by Tracy Letts, is a force.

 

 

Everything, Everything

Are you a teenage girl? Or perhaps you simply have the taste in movies of one (Twilight, The Fault In Our Stars, Before I Fall)? If so, you can confidently add this movie to your lineup. For everyone else: keep moving.

It ain’t bad, it’s just not that good. It’s about a young woman, Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), who has SCID, a disease that basically renders her immune system void. She has to stay in her sterile home just to stay alive. She has never left it. It’s a sad and sheltered existence without outside contact except for her mother and her nurse, Carla, and what she can observe from her window. When a cute boy (Olly, Nick Robinson) moves in next door, it widens her world by a tiny margin, but only makes her feel more keenly for what she’s missing.

MV5BMTU5ODEzNTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODU1MTQzMjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Their love story unfolds slowly, as it must when one person is physically removed from the other. In the novel they communicate by text or instant messaging. To make that play a little less boring on screen, director Stella Meghie imagines them within the architectural models that Maddy’s always working on. It’s a device that works while still reminding us that these conversations don’t actually take place in a face-to-face reality. Still, it’s a talk-heavy, plot-light movie that doesn’t move around too much. If you aren’t swooning over Olly’s too-long-locks, you’re probably going to find this long.

As you might guess, this relationship prompts Maddy to consider going outside for the first time in her life. She’ll be risking her tenuous health and the sharp disapproval of her overprotective mother. But what else is young love for, if not rebellion?

Anyway. As you know, Hollywood only thinks teenagers are good for two things: romance with vampires, and death. Or at least they’re only profitable doing one of those two MV5BM2UwNDlhNmUtOWRiYi00MzgzLWFiMzEtMDE2MWE2NWY0MzMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTkxOTY3MDY@._V1_things. Amandla Stenberg is very charming as Maddy, the brave, beautiful, but socially awkward girl next door trapped in a glass castle. She succumbs to the kind of romantic gestures no teenage boy would be caught doing and only a young-adult novelist could dream up. There’s some major eye-rolling to be had in this movie, and it starts rather early, when Olly first appears in his driveway, tossing his luscious locks in the unfiltered sunlight, shooting his pretty neighbour a cocksure grin while showing off on his skateboard. I was so sure he was about to eat it, and truthfully hoping he would, that it set a really weird tone to the movie for me. I guess my lusty teenage days are too far behind me. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on the calculation between yourself and your own misspent youth.

All We Had

Katie Holmes directs herself in All We Had, and proves she isn’t afraid to paint herself in an unfavourable light. Rita Carmichael is good at loving men but terrible at picking them. When another loser reaches his expiration date, it’s her daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) that knows it’s time to cut ties and get the hell out of dodge. The problem is that Rita and Ruthie are chronically broke. Rita self-medicates for her crappy childhood with nullcheap booze. Between men they live out of their piece of shit car. They have almost nothing going for them but Rita makes keeping Ruthie out of child services her top priority, and so far, she’s always succeeded.

This time, though, it’s going to be extra difficult. Their car breaks down literally in front of the greasy spoon where they just dined-and-dashed and it looks like they’re stuck in whatever crummy small town this is.

All We Had is not a great movie, but it’s not bad. It’s just that Katie Holmes is so hellbent on making this an inspirational story of redemption, she leans heavily on tired formula schtick. Addictions, childhood trauma, financial crisis: this movie has it all, everything except focus. All We Had is the kind of movie you’ll make excuses for – “it means well” you’ll say, and mean  it. But that’s not quite enough. There’s not enough skill here to pull meaning from the good intentions. But if you’re willing to watch Katie Holmes try, All We Had is good for 1 hour and 45 minutes of trial and error and smudged eyeliner.

Like a Lotus Flower

like a lotus flower

Like a Lotus Flower is both a memorial to a lost mother and an example of how death can decimate a family.  The story is told in a way that keeps the viewer guessing and even though that is frustrating at times, that choice definitely made me pay total attention to this film in order to figure out how each person fit into the narrative.

At base, this is Eliya Swarttz’s story.  She lost her mother, Hedy, to breast cancer at a very young age.  Eliya wrote and directed Like a Lotus Flower, and reflects on her past through a combination of home video footage, interviews with the other family members, excepts from her childhood journals, and animated sequences.

The artwork in the animated sequences is a highlight.  Tonally, the art is an extension of the title, the visual equivalent of a flower blooming from the mud.  It is beautiful, somehow bright and sad at the same time, and ties the interviews and video footage together nicely.

It’s quite a puzzle to figure this family out, particularly when Eliya’s first father figure is her dad’s brother, who not only introduced Eliya’s parents to each other but also professes a deep and complex love for Hedy.  He refers to their relationship as being one between two emotional cripples who were trying to save each other.  For reasons that are not really explained, Eliya’s biological father is noticeably absent from the film and Eliya’s life in general.

There are also other notable and unexplained absences that will leave the viewer guessing, but perhaps that is the point.  There is no rhyme or reason to life and death, and this film captures the ebb and flow of people entering and leaving our lives as we grow.  Asking why Eliya’s mother died or why her father is absent is as effective as shouting into the wind.  These events happened and Eliya dealt with them (and is clearly still dealing with them in making this movie), and she bloomed out of a difficult situation.

By the end, Eliya is able to admit to herself and her family members how difficult her adolescence truly was despite her brave face, and when she does it feels like a breakthrough.  Like a Lotus Flower allows the viewer to participate in that therapeutic process as Eliya reconciles with her past, and does so in a way that is interesting and relatable.

Like a Lotus Flower is part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, screening May 10 at 3:30 p.m.

 

The Meddler

A widow moves across the country to be with her only daughter. It sounds trite and cliched and we’re only one sentence in. Hold up. Does it help if I tell you that Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne play the mother and daughter? It should. Keep reading.

In fact, The Meddler may very well be tale as old as time. After her husband’s death, themeddler_trailer1Marnie has a little bit of money and an awful lot of time, so she packs up her New Jersey home and finds herself a condo in L.A. where her daughter Lori writes for television. Marnie’s California awakening is intoxicating. She loves all the things that most of us hate about L.A. But shopping at The Grove and volunteering only fill up so many hours. The rest are spent calling or visiting her daughter. Her daughter is not impressed.

Marnie calls Lori when a new Beyonce song comes on the radio. She calls her when she hears about a serial killer roughly in the area. She calls her when Lori hasn’t called her back, and she calls her again when that one isn’t returned either. Then she texts. Then she knocks on the door with bagels. Or doesn’t knock but just comes in.

Small cracks in Marnie’s Positive Polly act surface: she’s grieving and trying hard not to show it. And she’s achingly lonely. So when Lori suggests that her therapist has meddler_xlargeencouraged her to set boundaries with her mother, Marnie sees the therapist herself. And when that doesn’t go as expected, she finds other people to mother, like the ‘genius’ she overuses at the Apple store, and a friend of her daughter’s who’s more receptive to advice and well-intended intrusiveness.

 

None of these really get to the heart of her pain though; her meddling is just a bandaid on her very wounded heart. She isn’t prepared to be alone so early in her golden years. She feels guilty about an inheritance that feels like blood money. And the only person who understands her grief is the daughter who’s pushing her away. Marnie wants to hold Lori close because her daughter is a piece of the husband she’s missing, but Lori needs distance from the mother who only reminds her of her father’s absence. The disparity is heart-breaking.

The Meddler is a very interesting meditation on grief and the various ways it’s expressed. The movie is marketed as far fluffier than it is, however with Susan Sarandon in the lead, there’s a lot of joy and laughter mixed in with everything else. She gracefully navigates between the bubbles of emotion as they rise to the surface. The writing is stronger as a drama than as a comedy but Sarandon is talented with any material, and lights the way with her stunning luminescence.

Bad Moms

Maybe it’s because I’m tired of hearing Moms complain. Motherhood is a choice and, apparently, a blessing, but an alien life form perusing Facebook and Mommy blogs would never guess it. Every single day my news feeds are clogged with “open letters” from Moms who cry and complain about never having enough time to “do it all” – and yet, they’ve always got the time to let us know about it. Here’s a secret: nobody gets to do it all. Every single person struggles with work-life balance. Everyone! imagesJ7LLG4KCBut the craziest thing is not that mothers believe themselves to be uniquely challenged (you and every other breeder on the planet anyway) but that the #1 thing they complain about is judgement from other Moms. Which is crazy. Motherhood IS tough. And there’s no one right way to do it. But if you have time to be peeping into someone else’s minivan, then I guess maybe it’s not as all-consuming as you thought. Here’s another secret: nobody gives a fuck. Everyone’s pretty busy living their own lives. Just live yours. If you have guilt, deal with it. Don’t project it into someone else’s judgement.

I’m super glad to say that most of the Moms I know don’t need a self-congratulatory shit-shows like Bad Moms to make themselves feel better. This movie feels like the opposite of feminism. It implies that women aren’t very good at multi-tasking and are susceptible to nervous break downs if they have more than one thing on the go at once. How many mothers do I know who have literally eaten spaghetti while driving? None. It’s dangerous and stupid. The mothers I know all have tiny portions of dry cereal handy to keep kids entertained and fed in the car, and backseats that smell like sour milk, but they don’t twirl pasta and drive.

Most if not all of the mothers I know work full-time or go to school, or both.  The reality is that mothers need to be caregivers and providers both. Sometimes even exclusively. Yes, it’s hard to leave the kids. Almost 2016-05-04T12-34-47-833Z--1280x720_today-inline-vid-featured-desktopeveryone can think of something they’d rather be doing than going to work. But if you’re lucky enough in this economy to only work part-time, or from home, or not at all, have the good grace not to complain about it. And if the hours you have with your kids are few, make the most of them. Kids remember quality time, not quantity. Maybe don’t spend that time writing passive-aggressive tweets about how tough your life is.

I think the worst thing Bad Moms does is that it infantalizes women. Motherhood is reduced to a competition, and all the Moms start acting like middle school girls. They openly bully each other. They form cliques. They ostracize and criticize the ones who aren’t like them. Bad Moms feels like middle-aged Mean Girls, only not as funny, not as mordant. When the screenwriter, who is a man by the way, decides to indulge the mothers in “letting loose”, what they do is throw a tantrum and make a mess in a grocery store. Like their toddlers. He doesn’t seem to think much of mothers, and I find that insulting.

It’s 2016. Women can handle their shit. But if they don’t like the kind of lifestyle that comes with having kids, here’s another secret: you don’t have to have them. Ladies have options! Living childfree is one of them. But if you do have kids, embrace it. You don’t have to love it all the time and good god, you don’t have to be with them all the time. I think mothers need to gift themselves with time apart way more often. Happy mothers are better mothers. Stop with the guilt. And stop with movies like this, that only exacerbate guilt and perpetuate the very concept of “good moms” and “bad moms” that it nominally pokes fun at. Children’s Aid can assess the bad moms. The rest are just moms doing their best, and that’s good enough.

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and daughters: a relationship so often mined by Hollywood that maybe all the diamonds are gone and all that’s left are duds.

This movie is a dud, but not for lack of trying. Susan Sarandon, plus real-life daughter Eva Amurri Martino, and Sharon Stone, and Courteney Cox, and Selma Blair, and Christina Ricci, and probably more besides that I’m forgetting. That’s an awful lot of leading ladies covering pretty much every angle of motherhood that you can imagine. In fact, one of the maxresdefaultreasons this movie fails is that it tries too hard. The script is just so stupidly earnest. It makes wonderful actresses say such flighty, cliched things. And everyone cries all the time, at the drop of a hat. It made me really wonder why the script writer has so many fucking hats, and why she’s always dropping them. Secure your hat to your head, lady.

Mira Sorvino. That’s who I was forgetting.

Anyway, are your tear ducts all clogged up? Do you have some salt water that needs purging? Were you hoping to remove one tiny strip of makeup all the way down your face? Then have I got a movie for you! Mothers and Daughters doesn’t just ask you to cry, it begs. The director probably owns stock in Kleenex. But it’s the kind of shame-crying that only makes you mad at your stupid emotions and the things that make you feel them. I watched this on Netflix at 2am, when it is perfectly acceptable to cry watching a movie you loathe as long as you have Doritos to keep you company.

The writing is ambitious, but ambitious in the way that a 19 year old writes a memoir. People will be so impressed when I use all my big words! I have a thesaurus and Irs_1024x759-160502103124-1024-courteney-cox-mothers-daughters.ls.5216 want you to watch me abuse it! I’m going to write a trite little movie that wishes it was a pretentious little novel! Script writing 101 says I should put in a conflict here! [Insert conflict]. I wonder if Sharon Stone can do polysyllabics? Either way she’ll be impressed when I whip out this tired metaphor! And I’ll make it super relatable by including a variety of white women with down-to-earth jobs like bra designer, fashion icon, and celebrity photographer. And I wonder if I can work in cancer? Watch out, heart strings!

In conclusion, Mothers and Daughters is a movie I found randomly on Netflix, having never heard of it before despite starring at least 3 Oscar-nominated actresses. It will be palatable to neither mothers nor daughters but it’s definitely a movie that exists. The end.