Escape Mother’s Day (and “Mother’s Day”) at the multiplexes and try one of these ten films, all of which feature a fascinating mom or two.
Looking for a good movie to watch with your mom – or just a good movie about mothers – for this weekend? For the record, my own mom’s latest favorite was “Brooklyn,” but if you want something a little less recent, try one of these.
“The Hours” (2002): The stories of three women, in three different time periods, elegantly interweave in this adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s luminous book about motherhood, creativity, and, quite simply, what it means to be alive. Two of the three – played by Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore – are mothers, with all the complexity that role brings; the third (novelist Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman) wonders about what might have been.
“Jumping the Broom” (2011): For those days when only an extra-pretty rom-com with a wedding at its center will do. This one’s a bit over-crammed with plotlines, but features two perfectly cast (and very funny) moms at its center: the great Angela Bassett (whose character here is capable of reducing a wedding planner to dust with one glare) and Loretta Devine as, respectively, the dueling mothers of the bride and groom.
“The Kids are All Right” (2010): Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a longtime couple whose teenage daughter (Mia Wasikowska) is preparing to leave the nest for college – and wondering about her biological father (enter an absurdly charming Mark Ruffalo). It’s a sweet, affectionately told tale of a family who adores each other; you never doubt, while spending time with these likable people, that things will turn out right.
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“The Namesake” (2007): Based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, this is another film about a family: in this case: two generations of a Bengali-American clan, whose parents arrived in New York from Calcutta as newlyweds and near-strangers. Ashima, the mother (played by the actress Tabu), undergoes a gradual, moving transformation; falling in love with her young husband, and creating over the years a warm home in a place that once felt so terribly cold.
“Philomena” (2013): An enchanting mixture of road movie, odd-couple comedy and heart-touching story, this film stars the brilliant Judi Dench as the title character, an Irishwoman who sets her mind to finding the child she was forced to give up for adoption fifty years earlier. A trip to America, with a skeptical journalist (Steve Coogan) ensues. If you can watch this film without both laughing out loud and brushing away tears – sometimes at the same time – you’re made of sterner stuff than me.
“Rabbit Hole” (2010): Nicole Kidman was Oscar-nominated for her work as a grieving mother in this film, based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed, with unexpected wit and warmth, by John Cameron Mitchell. This is the stuff of great tragedy – Kidman’s character’s child was killed in a car accident, at age 4 – handled masterfully by the cast, each of whom break our hearts without ever overplaying a moment. It sounds terribly depressing, and it is; yet, there’s hope and even a touch of joy.
“Ricki and the Flash” (2015): It’s always a treat to see a real-life mother and daughter on screen, and here the duo of Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer create fireworks together as a failed rock star and the daughter who resents her mother’s absence. Streep is, as always, mesmerizing; Gummer, who looks uncannily like her mother (around the “Kramer vs. Kramer” era, to be specific), vividly demonstrates that the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree.
“Stories We Tell” (2013): In this hard-to-classify documentary, actor/filmmaker Sarah Polley (“Away From Her,” “Take This Waltz”) picked up a camera to try to figure out the truth behind a family story involving her mother Diane, who died when Polley was a child. A fascinating story – though not necessarily the one we were expecting — unfolds; about secrets, about family, and about how memories can miraculously bring someone back to life again.
“Volver” (2006): An intoxicating story splashed with bright colors and a miracle or two, this Pedro Almodovar tale stars Penelope Cruz as a woman whose mother (Carmen Maura) mysteriously returns to their small Spanish town – long after her death in a fire. Is she a ghost? Does it matter? Cruz, the warm center of the film, gives one of her best screen performances; her Raimonda is a powerhouse of fiery energy – and of love.
“What Maisie Knew” (2013). I just noticed that I have three Julianne Moore movies on this list. Well, so be it. She’s shiveringly perfect here as a monstrously bad mother; a selfish, self-absorbed rock star (she’s the person who Streep’s character, in “Ricki and the Flash,” wanted to be) who loves the idea of her little daughter but not the reality of her. This is a contemporary adaptation of a Henry James novel, and it’s remarkably well-done – particularly the moment where Moore, near the end, miraculously manages to make us sympathize with her.