By Gen Terblanche11 May 2023
Mother’s night: Do Mother’s Day her way
This Mother’s Day weekend, 13-14 May – and throughout the month – we’re celebrating all the shades of mom. In advertisements she’s the lady who wipes tears and bottoms and smiles as she scrubs the floor or loads a lunchbox. But there’s so much more to her than that. She’s complicated. She’s ambitious. She’s glamorous, outrageous, generous and funny.
It’s no accident that the highest form of praise these days is “She is Mother!”
Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Talk To Her and Volver) is fascinated by the relationships between women and the emotionally complex dynamics of motherhood and camaraderie as women raise children together.
In the film Parallel Mothers he brings in one of his muses, Penélope Cruz, to tell a story of two mothers – chaotic, generous photographer Janis Martínez (Penélope, who won five major awards for the role) and teen gang rape victim Ana (Milena Smit) – who give birth together during the Covid pandemic lockdown. The two keep in touch and after Janis uncovers a secret about their babies, she hires Ana to be her daughter’s nanny and the two develop an intense relationship that straddles the line between friendship, sexual love, and a mother-daughter bond. The film centres on reckoning with the past, echoed in Janis’s efforts to reunite families with the bodies of men who were buried in a mass grave during the Spanish Civil War.
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Look out for a fantasy take on four generations of mothers, daughters, and hidden pasts in the Peter Pan-inspired movie The Lost Girls. And Olivia Coleman, Dakota Johnson and Maggie Gyllenhaal put mothers and daughters in the spotlight in The Lost Daughter, based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name.
Queen Latifah brings both motherly warmth and fierceness to her role as ex CIA “fixer” and divorced mom Robyn McCall. Like many moms, she extends the nurturing and protective role she has in her 15-year-old daughter Delilah’s (Laya DeLeon Hayes) life to her greater community. And in Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint), Robyn also has family and community on her side in the home.
As in the film Parallel Mothers, part of this series is about women raising women. And we see Delilah, Vi and Robyn out literally setting the streets to rights when the local government refuses to fill in potholes. Kick-ass action series The Equalizer also looks at the tricky balance working mothers try to strike between needs at home and at work. Just imagine trying to keep your vigilante life a secret from your hyper-critical teenager!
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For a take on a mother prepared to defend her grown daughters at all costs, try Irish crime drama series Smother, or see a protective mum with a gun on the rampage taking on terrorists in the BBC thriller miniseries Crossfire, and a mother protecting her daughter during a heist in the movie Locked In.
What would you do to provide for your children? That’s the question posh housewife Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) is facing when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her to raise their two sons. In this dark comedy drama, Nancy develops a taste for adrenaline and sexy shenanigans when she turns to being a marijuana dealer to keep her kids living in their upper class neighbourhood, in the lifestyle they’re used to – something she could not do on a normal salary.
But each step into the underworld drags her deeper until she has to fight ruthlessly to protect first her family, and then her growing business … and the desire to succeed at all costs overtakes the reason she went into business in the first place (especially after Season 4). Eventually this suburban mom is dating DEA agents and Mexican drug lords, and dragging her sons around the country on the run from the consequences of her choices. Given the choice between being bad and rich, or bored and broke, Nancy knows what she wants. Sorry, kids, mama’s gotta deal that MILF Weed.
Motherhood is a public performance – you will be judged. And since the rich are nothing if not nitpicky, in their world all mothers need to deliver a perfect performance at all times. The series’ six high society alpha moms, Renata (Laura Dern), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), Mary Louise (Meryl Streep in season 2), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), and Jane (Shailene Woodley) all reach for that goal in their own way, leading to a fascinating showdown between gentle Celeste and her screaming mother-in-law Mary Louise in Season 2.
The children’s schools become battlegrounds throughout the series as people try to figure out whose child is a bully, who bit their kid, and how to deal with their children’s fears. And with each of the moms being expected to be so deeply engaged with their children, it also becomes a struggle for all of them to assert their identity as individuals and deal with the fact that all-consuming motherhood isn’t enough. So, you know, it’s complicated even before you throw a murder conspiracy into the mix.
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This psychological thriller miniseries based on Gillian Flynn’s 2006 debut novel of the same name explores the dark side of motherhood and generational trauma – when you don’t grow up with the storybook mom the world tells you you should have.
Troubled, self destructive reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams, with Sophia Lillis as the young Camille) is drawn back to her hometown to cover the stories of two murdered 13-year-old girls. The move pulls her back into the orbit of her charming, glamorous (and resentful) socialite mother, Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson), and her young half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen). Central to the plot is the family’s perfectly curated heirloom dollhouse, which mirrors the relentless perfectionism of the show’s loveless mother-daughter relationship … and its consequences.
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For a real-life look at toxic mother-daughter relationships and Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy, try the story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard in the documentary Mommy Dead And Dearest.
Enjoy more pitfalls of motherly perfectionism in the drama series Mildred Pierce.
See a horror movie take on generational trauma between Korean mothers and daughters in the Sandra Oh movie Umma.
And get a horror comedy take on vain mothers, troubled daughters and their perfect houses in the Courteney Cox series Shining Vale.
After surviving 19 months in the wilderness battling death, wolves, snow storms, cannibalism and madness, the survivors of Flight 2525 came home. And at least two of them settled down to become “normal” suburban moms. If you love hearing stories about what your own mom was like as a young woman, but struggle to reconcile that with who she is now, imagine finding out that your vague, distant mama, who just seems to be going through the motions, had an affair but killed the guy … or even that she once ate one of her friends. More than one of her friends, actually. And had to give birth in the wilderness to a baby that might not have survived.
Or what if your perfectionist politician mother stalked the night climbing trees, eating dirt and murdering dogs? So maybe don’t try to blackmail mom … unless you want to spend your weekends in your dad’s sad flat while he tries to date your college friends, mkay? You don’t know her.
Motherhood: You’ve welcomed a little alien into your home. It screams. It feeds. It stares at you blankly and asserts its will with endless need. You can read every baby book and even raise other children, but each little person who comes home will be a stranger with their own ways. And that’s just a regular human baby.
David Farr’s adaptation of John Wyndham’s 1957 science-fiction novel of the same name centres on an idyllic English village where every woman of childbearing age suddenly wakes up pregnant and gives birth, whether they want to or not. But when the basic chemical bonding at childbirth doesn’t happen between village newcomer Zoë Moran (Aisling Loftus) and her alien “cuckoo”, her eyes are open not only to how off-putting her child is, but how repellent everyone else’s new babies are, too. And isn’t that the ultimate taboo? Through Zoë we get to explore the guilt, rage, isolation and shame mothers feel when they don’t make that “magical” bond because of postpartum psychosis or a violation of their fundamental desire not to have children.
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For more demon children and their reluctant mothers, try horror comedy series The Baby, about an indestructible baby that shows up on a woman’s doorstep.
For more metaphors about the exploitation of mothers (in this case, Mother Earth), watch Darren Aronofsky’s eerie, dreamy film Mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence.
And for the ultimate dystopian series about the tyranny of forced motherhood, of course, we have The Handmaid’s Tale.
Need something silly and fun to watch with mom? Watch out for the fun romantic comedy Ticket To Paradise, on Showmax from Monday, 15 May. Julia Roberts and George Clooney play a divorced mom and dad who race around the world to Bali to stop their daughter from marrying a humble seaweed farmer.
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