In case you haven’t heard, Mother’s Day is this weekend. The time to celebrate all the women in our lives that helped mold and shape who we are. These women may take the form of our moms, step-moms, grandmothers, aunts, older and wiser sisters. Whatever the case, it’s a special day to celebrate There are a lot of different depictions of mothers in film.
There are many different depictions of mothers in film, just like in life. Some mothers are nurturing and comfortable. Others are crazy and try to eat their young. There are the traditional mother/daughter relationships in beloved films like “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolias.” There are new additions to the canon, such as “Lady Bird.”
In some cases, mothers are simply trying to protect their kids. Julia Roberts throws herself into work in order to provide for her children in “Erin Brockovich.” Even the Xenomorph Queen in “Aliens” is protecting her brood. And in a less traditional sense, Ellen Ripley applies here, too.
To celebrate Mother’s Day, here are ten great films to watch with the mother types in your life. And because moms tend to judge themselves too harshly, this list is alphabetized instead of ranked.
It’s true, this story focuses on a boy and a long-buried family mystery surrounding his great-great-grandfather. But the women in this film are vital influences on young Miguel. His grandmother rules her house with fierce love and well-cobbled leather shoes. And she comes from a long line of strong women who do what they feel is best to raise good children who value their families. And while Miguel seeks out his long great-great-gramps, it is the newfound connection he discovers with his grandmothers that truly make the story take on those extra levels of meaning and emotion.
This film justifiably drew criticism for its depiction of racial issues and the “white savior” elements. But it is a beautiful view of motherhood, with several different maternal plot lines. There was the typically tumultuous relationship between Skeeter (Emma Stone) and Charlotte (Alison Janney). There was Abilene (Viola Davis), a mother who had lost her only son in a tragic accident. Celia (Jessica Chastain) is trying desperately to have a baby. Minnie (Octavia Spencer) protects her children from her abusive husband. Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly) has no idea how to be a mother to her children and overcompensates in the worst ways. And Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a terrible person, but, surprisingly, a really loving and devoted mother, even if she tosses her own mother (Sissy Spacek) in a nursing home.
Allison Janney really has a knack for playing moms onscreen. At its core, this is a story of a teenage girl (Ellen Page) who finds herself pregnant and struggling with adding that to the list of typical teenage life challenges. But as she moves toward her due date and chooses a couple to adopt her tiny one, we see Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), who desperately wants to be a mommy. We also see Juno’s relationship with step-mom Bren (Janney). This relationship is particularly intriguing because it is full of the obligatory dislike of the Wicked Step-Mother. And yet, Bren gets the chance to prove how much she cares for the ungrateful teenager for whom she shares partial responsibility.
The Kids are All Right
There is a lot to love about this sweet comedic drama that introduces several different elements not often put on display on the silver screen. There is the imperfect, but loving, same-sex relationship between Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). Both of whom are loving and devoted mothers to their two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Of course, everything gets complicated when the teens want to meet their biological father (Mark Ruffalo). It is a beautiful story about two mothers and shows that family dynamics are always precarious, no matter the circumstances. And also worth fighting for.
Nicole Kidman earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as adoptive mom Sue to Indian-born Saroo. And she and Dev Patel share some heart-wrenching and also beautifully tender moments as mother and son. But Sue is not the only mother in Saroo’s life. And even though we hardly see the lost boy’s mother, you can’t help but wonder about her throughout the film. It is easy to imagine the pain she endured, not knowing what happened to her sweet little boy. As he searches for home, we’re cheering him on for her sake every bit as much as for his.
Cher stars as the mother of a young Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci in this quirky comedy from 1990. She plays a single mom who has moved her girls from town to town in search of something. Whether it is love she seeks, or simply a sense of belonging, her solution to any problem is to run away from it and start over again somewhere else. Which has worked up until elder daughter Charlotte (Ryder) reaches the age where she cares about staying in one place for more than a few months. Charlotte is entrenched in the repression of the early 60s, while her mother is actually the more free-spirited one, and they teach each other how to live and love.
Judi Dench is perfectly cast in the title role of this true story. She plays a woman who was coerced into giving up her out-of-wedlock baby for adoption decades ago. She subsequently spent decades trying to find him, only to be turned away, shunned, and ignored at every possible break in her search. And even though she longs to find her son, it isn’t with the intent of disrupting his life. It is simply because she wants to make sure he had a good life. She wants to know that he was happy and that her decision didn’t ruin him. And even as things never seem to go her way, she maintains a surprising spirit of optimism and good-natured humor. She may be exasperating at times, but it’s impossible not to love her.
Queen of Katwe
Lupita Nyong’o plays a widowed mother who is forced to raise her children in dire poverty in the slums of Uganda. She spends her days concerned about survival and nothing more. There is no room for frivolity or dreaming. That is, until she learns her daughter is a chess prodigy. What’s beautiful with this film is the way their relationship grows throughout the film. There are times when Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) develops an attitude and starts disrespecting her mom. They fight. A lot. Nyong’o’s Harriet has a rocky relationship with older daughter Night (Taryn Kyaze). But, just like any normal mother, she sacrifices everything to fulfill her children’s wishes. I dare you not to cry when Harriet asks, “Are you still my daughter?” This overlooked movie is a gem.
There are plenty of movies that deal with the step-mother trope. They are usually wicked, or home wreckers, or some otherwise villainous entity that either tries to take away all of dad’s attention or just generally make their stepchildren miserable. And yes, Susan Sarandon‘s Jackie certainly wants to see Isabelle (Julia Roberts) that way. They spend much of the film in this rivalry that is mostly one-sided. But the great thing about it is that the story shows both perspectives. As you watch, you see that Isabelle isn’t perfect, but she is far from the evil hag Jackie wants to make her out to be. It’s a great tutorial for blended families on what not to do. Or how to fix it when you inevitably make those common mistakes.
Troop Beverly Hills
Plenty of movies show moms going to extreme lengths to protect their kids. This comedy takes that idea and applies it to a much less urgent situation, still maintaining the sense that mothers will do anything for their kids. Here, Shelley Long plays Phyllis, a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills before that was a thing. As she faces imminent divorce, soon-to-be-ex-husband Freddy (Craig T. Nelson) declares that she never follows through on anything. Determined to prove him wrong, she signs up to lead her daughter’s Wilderness Girls troop, helping them earn badges on a camping trip to the rugged wilds of the Beverly Hills Hotel. But when the troop faces disbandment, she takes them into the real wilderness for a challenge of obstacles and outdoor survival. It’s funny and endearing, and she learns a lot about herself, her daughter, and motherhood in the process.