Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day Weekend: It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 12 Memorable Movie Moms and Blogger Links to Share



I'm still plodding through A Feast for Crows. I don't think I've ever made such slow progress through a novel. After being thoroughly obsessed with Book #3 in this series,  Book #4 has been a let-down. It introduces some interesting characters and locations and includes a few memorable scenes. But for the most part, it feels like filler. The most important characters have been taken off the canvas for now, and the characters we're left with seem to be accomplishing little.

Then you have brave knights behaving incredibly stupidly in the face of the sexual charms of characters like Cersei and Arianna. C'mon gentlemen. Use your brains. It's your second favorite organ, located roughly behind your eyeballs.

I still admire Martin's writing abilities and phenomenal skill in world building. But I wish that about halfway through this series, he'd employed a savvy and ruthless editor.



Fawlty Towers -- We rewatched this 1975 British series -- it's probably my favorite sitcom of all time. John Cleese (Basil), co-star Prunella Scales (Sybil), and fellow actor and co-writer Connie Booth (Polly) made a terrific team. Inspired by a spectacularly rude hotel owner he encountered while filming Monty Python, John Cleese created the character of Basil Fawlty. He vacillates between being aggressively rude to hotel patrons and fawning all over them in an obsequious fashion. And he comes up against a variety of odd guests, ranging from pleasantly quirky to spectacularly annoying.

In one memorable scene, he meets an obnoxious American -- y'know that guy who comes to England and is annoyed because everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. :-) The way these two characters play off on one another -- the pompous, uptight Englishman vs. the quintessential "ugly American" -- reminds me of the work Cleese and Kevin Kline did together, a decade later, in A Fish Called Wanda.

12 Memorable Movie Moms:

I'm not the kind of mother about whom Hallmark cards are written. For starters, I cuss. A lot. I have a warped, sarcastic sense of humor. My house looks like a used bookstore and a yard sale simultaneously exploded inside it. I'd do anything for my kids, but I don't always do it with warmth and good grace. I'm sporadically irritable, impatient and selfish. So I'm not the perfect inspiration for Hallmark poetry, but I think I'd make a great character in an indie movie.

When I started trying to come up with a list of cinematic mothers I like, I found it surprisingly difficult. Let's face it, most of the portrayals of motherhood we see on screen aren't particularly positive. More often than not, a character's relationship with his mother is the obstacle to overcome, an explanation of his agonizingly dysfunctional life, or at the very least, purely an annoyance.

On the other hand, we sometimes get a cardboard cutout mom who could be interchanged with June Cleaver or a dozen other fictional women. She's patient, she keeps an immaculate house, and she offers a shoulder to lean on at just the right moment. Meh. No thanks. I'd rather watch the "no wire hangers" scene in Mommie Dearest on a continuous loop than be subjected to that level of insufferable perfection.

I love the fact that good movie moms, when they're done well, show us examples of quiet courage, unflagging devotion, and complicated, flawed human beings muddling along on the most joyful and challenging job known to humanity.

Finally, I want to thank these bat-shit crazy bitches for making the rest of us look good.

1. Dolores (Jacki Weaver) in Silver Linings Playbook -- I saw this movie when it was in theaters, before I read the novel upon which it was based, so I didn't know what to expect. When we meet Dolores, she's checking her grown son out of a mental hospital AMA. My initial reaction to this, and to her efforts to placate her troubled son and quirky, volatile husband, was not positive. I was afraid she was emerging as a spineless enabler.

However, I quickly warmed up to her character with her nurturing ways and quiet, unprepossessing strength. And while Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro garnered most of the acclaim for this successful film, I loved Jacki Weaver's performance as the rock upon whom her husband and son rely for some semblance of normality. She played the role with a lot of heart and just the right amount of subtlety. And I really wanted to try some of those crabby snacks.

2. Ashley (Amy Adams) in Junebug -- Ashley's pregnancy is hardly under ideal circumstances. She had a "shotgun wedding" before finishing high school. Her husband is openly resentful of the situation, and his family is hardly welcoming. Yet she is doggedly exuberant about her marriage and the upcoming birth. Even if she's sometimes perky to the point of being irksome, Ashley's determined love, cheerfulness, and optimism won my heart.

This movie exemplifies so much of what I love about indie films. The pervasive feeling of realism. Its carefully observed portrait of small towns, which avoids glib cliches. The quirky characters. The fact that it has a lot of heart without veering into sentimentality. I found all the characters engrossing, especially the offbeat folk artist. (How many artists out there are rendering General Robert E. Lee's male member in civil war scenes? Now that's thinking outside the box!) However, Ashley was definitely the one to root for.

3. Bonnie Grape (Darlene Cates) in What's Eating Gilbert Grape-- Bonnie wouldn't be most people's pick for mother of the year. Because of her depression and obesity, she relies upon her grown children for care, and she isn't always gracious about it. To further complicate things, her obesity causes the callous people of the community to look at her as a freak show oddity, and she is ashamed to leave the house. However, her steadfast love for her kids shines through at unexpected moments. And I suspect her devotion to her mentally disabled son Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the only thing that keeps her going.

Bonnie has a quiet moment of triumph when her need to protect Arnie forces her to leave the house. Watching her put on her boots and walk out the door, we realize that -- for her -- this simple act requires more courage than many people will muster in a lifetime. I'll be damned if I'm not moved to tears every time I watch that scene. 

4. Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand) Almost Famous -- Elaine is sometimes described as overprotective, but seriously, how many moms would be cool enough to let a 15-year-old boy traipse across the country with a rock band? I wouldn't have thought much of her if she hadn't hounded the kid with phone calls, doggedly determined to keep him off drugs long distance.

Elaine is a devoted mom, coping with the challenges of single motherhood. She's trying to learn from her mistakes with her older child who left home in a fit of rebellion. Above all she's treading that eternally difficult line between guiding and protecting her son and giving him the freedom to pursue his dreams. She's also portrayed by one of my favorite actresses of all time. It's hard to top that. :-) -

5. Sheryl Hoover (Toni Colette) in Little Miss Sunshine --Sheryl has her hands full coping with her insufferable husband and irascible father-in-law. She's trying to look after her brother who was just hospitalized for severe depression. Just to make things more interesting, her son has stopped speaking, claiming his vow of silence was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Then she finds herself on the road trip from Hell so her daughter can participate in a beauty pageant. In the midst of this she's surprisingly sane, and she seems committed to helping her kids pursue their dreams. I loved the fact that, after she saw how excited Olive was about the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, nothing could stop her from getting her child to that damn event.

6. Lynn Sear (Toni Colette) in The Sixth Sense -- Let's face it -- growing up can be damn tough. Especially when you see dead people. And as a mom, it isn't easy providing unconditional support and patience when, frankly, you have no idea what's going on with your son. On top of this Lynn is coping with single parenthood and unresolved grief over the loss of her mother. I loved her strength, patience, moments of fun and humor, and -- above all -- her fierce concern for and protectiveness of her child. 

7. Karen (Emma Thompson) in Love Actually -- Despite her occasional snarky comments about her offspring ("My horrid son Bernard ..."), Karen's love for and dedication to her kids is apparent, even as she struggles with ambivalence over her simple life as a homemaker and her progression into middle age. Even when she is struck with the devastating realization that her husband may be having an affair, she pushes aside her feelings to be emotionally present for her children during an important event.

This movie features an impressive ensemble cast and an array of interesting characters, yet I find Karen's character the most well developed in many ways. The moment when she fights off her feelings of grief and betrayal, to focus on her family, is devastating and shows us why Emma Thompson is one of the greatest actresses out there.

8. Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt) As Good as it Gets -- I almost left Carol off the list, because while her role as single mom to a seriously ill son is one of the cornerstones of the plot, their relationship isn't a focal point of the story. Yet her dedication to her little boy is constant throughout the movie.

In one scene, which was one of my favorite parts of the film, Carol admits to her mother that she makes her son hug her more than he really wants to, because she is lonely and misses physical intimacy. Being that honest about ones failings and vulnerabilities as a parent requires a particular kind of courage. Even though most of her mothering is off screen and peripheral to the plot, as a mom, Carol definitely won my respect. 

9. Iris Holland (Glenne Headly) in Mr. Holland's Opus -- I never see this movie discussed by film buffs, but I love it. It's a story about the simple but powerful fact that the small things we do in life, if done with passion or devotion, make a tremendous difference.

Iris's character is secondary to that of her husband, Glenn. He is undergoing a gradual transformation from a frustrated composer, who sees teaching music to high school students as a necessary but demeaning way to earn a paycheck, to a dedicated educator. Glenn is also a father who can't connect with his son, who is deaf, because they can't share the thing about which he is most passionate. His epiphany, when he realizes he's been a failure as a father, is both heart wrenching and hopeful.

Although Iris's role in the story seems largely to serve as a catalyst to Glenn's metamorphosis, she is a strong character in her own right. She's a dedicated, loving mother who struggles to overcome the terrible parenting advice that seems ubiquitous in the lives of families with "special needs" kids, remain closely connected to her son, and cope with her husband's sins of omission.

10. Mouna Khalil (Hiam Abbass) in The Visitor -- When she hasn't heard from her son Tarek in several weeks, Mouna arrives on the scene. It isn't until she's flown halfway across the country that she learns that Tarek faces imprisonment and possible deportation from the United States. Though she is risking deportation herself, she is determined to fight for him, showing both dignity and passionate love.

11. Kathleen Quigley (Helen Mirren) in Some Mother's Son -- Much of this film, which looks at the 1981 hunger strike led by IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, focuses on the blossoming friendship between pacifist Kathleen Quigley (Helen Mirren) and feisty rebel Annie Higgins (Fionnula Flanagan) who, after having a child murdered by British soldiers, is an unapologetic IRA supporter. Kathleen and Annie form their unlikely bond after their sons are arrested.

Both women find themselves struggling to save their sons. Kathleen finds herself forced into political activism, a kind of life she never sought. And as she faces the agony of watching her son dying, she has to make a difficult decision on his behalf.

12. Jane Pittman (Cicely Tyson) in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman -- This film chronicles Janes's long, painful journey from a plantation slave to a 110-year-old woman contemplating standing up in the blossoming civil rights movement in Louisiana. While she never gives birth, as a young girl she becomes "Little Mama" to Ned after the child's mother is killed. She supports and encourages him as he becomes literate and, inspired by Frederick Douglas, stands up as a leader.

By the way, I am a huge admirer of Ernest Gaines, author of the novel upon which this 1974 made-for-T.V. movie was based. A Gathering of Old Men is one of my favorite books of all time.

Others Sarah & I Considered Adding to the List:
  • Rosemary Penderghast (Patricia Clarkson) in Easy A
  • Mrs. Parker (Melinda Dillon) in A Christmas Story
  • Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) in Spiderman
  • Nancy Brocklebank in The Living and the Dead
  • Juno MacGuff in Juno
  • Lucy - The Lost Boys
  • Queen Elizabeth in The King's Speech
  • Marge Gunderson in Fargo
  • The Mother in Brave


Blog Posts I've Enjoyed:

  • Chris wrote an excellent post on Movie Soundtracks He's Been Enjoying -- I bought some music from Itunes based on this post. 

  • Ana had the opportunity to listen to one of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichieda and learn more about her new novel. 

  • Ruth celebrated her tenth wedding anniversary with a post titled My Top Ten Memorable Wedding Scenes. Awesome! I'll have to come up with something for my wedding anniversary in a few weeks. Twenty-three years. I've been married exactly exactly half my life. It seems like I should feel like a responsible adult by now, doesn't it? 

  • Josh shared his 10 Favorite Leonardo DiCaprio Performances -- love it! What does that man need to do to finally get the Oscar he deserves?

  • I'm saving Margaret's review of Side Effects for after I've seen the movie. She didn't like the film. I've read mixed reviews, but I'm still planning to give it a go. I'm also trying to avoid Margaret's Game of Thrones reviews until I finally get around to watching the 3rd season. It sucks having to stay away from one of your favorite blogs. :-) Hah! 

  • Alex blogged about his 10 Favorite Movie Endings that Other People Hate -- I definitely agreed with many of these, especially No Country for Old Men. The ending of that film had a philosophical quality, with Tommy Lee Jones' character talking about his dream. It doesn't directly relate to the plot of the movie, and some people find it confusing. But I love it. It's like a camera zooming out to give us a broader view, offering a direct glimpse at the film's thematic richness. It isn't just about the story -- it's a man's inability to adapt to a changing world, aging, mortality, regret, and so much more.

  • Chip reviewed Empire of the Sun, reminding me of why I want to revisit this movie soon. 

  •  Last but certainly not least, M. Brown Celebrated the 2nd Anniversary of his Blog with a look at the best and worst movies he's reviewed.


Linking To:

Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey 


  1. Thanks for the shout-out! Out of curiosity, which music did you buy?

    Fawlty Towers, love that too. So funny and well-written, we quote it a fair amount in my family, still holds up. That American episode is hilarious. "I haven't paid you £20 to cut a grapefruit in half and put a cherry in the middle!" :) You're right, K Kline vs Cleese encounter is a bit similar.

    T Colette in The Sixth Sense probably is my favorite of those mothers, just for her attitude, haven't seen all of the mentioned movies.

    1. The Place Beyond the Pines Album (although I haven't seen the movie -- *LOL*), Bones, Sandman, Patience, Midnight City, and Be the Song.

      Glad you're a Fawlty Towers fan too. We quote that show regularly in our family, too. "They're German! Don't ... mention ... the war!"

      Toni Colette was so good in Sixth Sense! That combination of maternal strength and sadness and vulnerability.

  2. Emma Thompson in Love Actually is brilliant and heart breaking!

    1. I know! There were many fabulous actors and characters in that movie, but Karen/Emma was my favorite. In just a few words and gestures, she conveyed volumes -- her struggle with dealing with the changes that come with middle age, her ambivalence over being "just" a mother, her ongoing journey to be more loving and demonstrative, her complicated relationship with her husband. So much depth there.

  3. Those are all great choices for movie mothers. I forgot about the mother in The Visitor, which is a movie I'm always recommending to people at the library where I work.

    AND Frances McDorman in Almost Famous is great, agreed, one of our favorite movies.

    1. Thanks, Bryan! I'm glad you're a fan of The Visitor, too. Actually, I've never seen Richard Jenkins in a role I didn't like.

      I finally got around to seeing Almost Famous this year -- what a fun movie! Frances McDormand's character is kind of on the periphery and sometimes used for comic relief. But I loved her. Her steadfast efforts to walk the fine line between mothering and protecting her son and giving him the freedom to pursue his dreams won my respect. I would definitely be cool with my kid putting high school in the back seat to go after his career goal at a tender age. But letting him run around with a crazy rock band and only the very loosest form of adult supervision? Oy! :-)

  4. I can relate to you completely when it comes to A Feast for Crows. After basically swallowing the third book I just haven't been able to finish the fourth one. I'm near to the end but it has taken me about 7 months.

    Good luck with it.

    1. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone. :) I'm glad you're almost to the end. Maybe you'll come back and let me know whether the 5th book is better. ;-)

  5. THANKS for the link love! I hope you do your own top 10 (or 23) list for your anniversary :D

    I LOVE your list of movie moms, and funny that you listed Toni Collette twice as I had just seen Muriel's Wedding. I definitely remember her in The Sixth Sense.

  6. I adore Mr Holland's Opus too! Always makes me cry when he realizes his life's work. But Iris is a terrific mom, great pick. Going with a fairly cheesy pick, I kinda love Susan Sarandon in Stepmom. She finally gives in and likes Julia Roberts and helps her kids deal with the change. Amazing sacrifice for a mom.

    1. Hi, Jess. I was THIS close to adding Susan Sarandon's character in Stepmom. I agree 100% with what you said, and I loved the fact that she was a flawed, though loving, character throughout the movie. "I have their past and you have their future." Very moving. :-)

  7. I just watched Silver Linings Playbook a few days ago. Dolores is definitely a great character!
    Happy belated Mother's Day and I hope you have better luck plodding through Martin this week. :)

    1. Thanks, Lindsey! And happy Mother's Day to you, especially as you'll be giving birth any minute. :-)

  8. I love your Moms list! I actually had the same exact experience when I read The Game of Thrones series-I whipped through the first 3 totally loving them, then hit a wall with 4. I found it so difficult to get through that book-good luck-your not alone!
    Kerri @

  9. Hmmm...I haven't seen many of these. I will have to change that.

    I would say my favorite movie mom is Sally Field in Steel Magnolias.

    1. Sally Field's character in Steel Magnolias is a great choice! Her daughter Shelby would be a good choice too -- I think she really doted on her little boy.

  10. Hi Mom. Good list. Two of the mom characters you forgot to add were Barbara from "Shaun of the Dead" ('it's been a rather funny day, hasn't it?') and Vera AKA Mum from "Dead Alive" ('Lionel! Lionel! Lionel!!!') Vera's one to make being eaten by flesh-eating zombies seem preferable to spending a day at home with old mum.

    I'm sorry you've been having such a rough time and that your Mother's Day was a complete bust. I know you often feel that I don't appreciate you, and that's a shame. I DO love and appreciate you, and happy belated Mother's Day, anyway. And if posting smooshy apologies on our blog seems a little tacky, delete it, I won't take it personally :)

  11. Awesome list! Yeah, Feast for Crows is really uneventful, thank God for Jaime and Cersei's chapters. ADWD is actually no much better, the way Tyrion and Daenerys are written make some people wonder if Martin was actually the one who wrote the book.

    1. Thanks! About ADWD ... bummer. :-/ I can't bring myself to give up on the series, though.

  12. Thanks so much for the link! :)

    LOVE this list. Delores in SLP and Mouna Khalil in The Visitor are ones I never would've thought of, but they're brilliant choices.

    I started Fawlty Towers once, but never got past the first episode. I really need to give it another go, as I love A Fish Called Wanda.

    1. Knowing how much you love A Fish Called Wanda, I'd say this series is worth another go. :-) They aren't really all that similar, but John Cleese's particular style of humor shines in both.

  13. Lovely post, Steph :)

    I haven't watched all the movies in your Mother List, but the brief explanation makes it easy to understand why you like the characters.

    Happy (late) Mother's Day to you :)

  14. Loved your post, perfect timing for a movie mum feature. Nice to see Toni Colette on your list, she's one of my favourite Australian actresses. Totally agree with you on Jacki Weaver, she plays the role of Dolores wonderfully.
    Have a great week and happy reading :)

  15. I'm only a little ways into A Storm of Swords, but the boyfriend is caught up with the series and I think he said A Feast for Crows was his least favorite of all the books -- less interesting characters in a plot that doesn't move much. That's too bad!

  16. Love that list of likable moms. Huge props for featuring Abbass' work in The Visitor, I thought she deserved far more praise for her work there.

    And thanks so much for the link :)

  17. Mr Holland's Opus was one of my all time favorites. It's one of the reasons I took a class in American Sign Language in college. Another favorite movie mom of mine was Diane Wiest's character in Parenthood.

    I love Fawlty Towers! I grew up watching PBS, so I'm a fan of many BBC comedies. The Good Neighbors was another favorite. Tom and Barbara Good, a couple living in English suburbia (Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal) decide to become self sufficient, much to the chagrin of their neighbors (Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington). In fact, when I think about it, the shows I loved are probably responsible for the way I live now. :o)

    You could have been describing me when you mentioned the warped, sarcastic sense of humor and the used bookstore house. I remember how proud I was the first time my oldest displayed her own sarcastic wit!

    Peace and Laughter!

  18. Oh, Ashley in Junebug. She broke my heart at the end of the movie. I felt so bad for her. She was so sweet and good and did not deserve what happened. Amy Adams gave a hell of a performance there.

  19. I love how you've mentioned Dolores from Silver Linings Playbook. I thought the film was so well put together, and I'd really like to watch it again now it's out on DVD. It definitely has a sort of charm to it.

    Also, I've always found it near-impossible to not admire (and pity) Emma Thomson's role in Love Actually. It's such an uplifting film to watch at Christmas.

    I hope you're well - I apologise for not stopping by your blog for a while!


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