Happy Mother’s Day! I’m using this vaunted day to debut a new, semi-regular segment I’m calling HEROES AND VILLAINS. This will be a closer examination of the good and the bad about a particular person or topic. For its inaugural release, this week is HEROES AND VILLAINS: MOTHER’S DAY EDITION because not all moms are heroes, as we’ll soon see.
HERO: Mrs. Gump in Forrest Gump
Unendingly supportive, Mrs. Gump (Sally Field) will do anything for her son. She loves him unconditionally, breaking down life’s more complicated issues into bite-sized slogans that Forrest can comprehend. “Life is like a box of chocolates” is the most famous, but she also tells little Forrest not to let anyone tell him they are better than he is. Despite his quirks, she lets him know he is no different from anyone else.
She wants Forrest not only to grow up to live a normal life, but to thrive. She wants to make sure every avenue is open to Forrest, even going so far as to sleep with a young Forrest’s principal in order to get him admitted to the school when Forrest’s IQ is preventing him from being accepted. Even as she’s dying, she tells Forrest he has to make his own destiny, do the best with what God gave him. She loves and supports him until her dying breath.
VILLAIN: Beverly Sutphin in Serial Mom
Serial Mom is a delightful comedy starring Kathleen Turner as the mom in question, Beverly Sutphin. Written and Directed by John Waters, the film imagines what it would be like if a sweet-looking suburban housewife was also a serial murderer. Playing the part perfectly, Turner as Beverly kills with wild abandon for any perceived slight against her family. She uses anything at her disposal to enact revenge for these slights; fire poker, her car, leg of lamb, even setting someone on fire. The latter of which gets her arrested.
Her court case becomes a media circus. The news dubs her “Serial Mom” and her daughter sells merchandise outside the courthouse. Beverly is eventually acquitted of her crimes after defending herself in court, but there’s one thing still bothering her as she walks out a free woman… that one juror who was wearing white shoes after Labor Day… a kill-worthy offense, surely.
HERO: Tanya Anderson in Akeelah and the Bee
Being a widowed, single mother raising four kids has gotta be tough work. Holding down a job while trying to be a positive presence in your kids’ lives, sometimes you gotta be strict. Telling her daughter Akeelah that she can’t participate in the spelling bee at the expense of her other grades might make it seem like Angela Bassett’s Tanya Anderson should maybe be on the other side of this list. But tough love is still love and sometimes it’s the best way to teach your kids about the struggles of life.
Eventually, when she sees and understands just how much the spelling bee means to Akeelah and how good she actually is, Tanya embraces this strange new world and becomes her daughter’s biggest supporter.
VILLAIN: Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest
Ooof. This movie. Based on the memoir and exposé book written by Christina Crawford, daughter of Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest is one of those movies you think can’t be as grueling to watch as people say and you’d be right. It’s much, much worse. Starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, this movie is one of the more disturbing films out there.
From wire-hanger beatings to slaps in the face to straight-up choking her teenage daughter in front of witnesses, ol’ Joan does her best to make sure no one sends her flowers or chocolates on her special day. After Joan’s death, and learning she and her brother have been disinherited from the will, Christina indicates she, not Joan, will get the final word. Cue the book and movie adaptation.
HERO: Helen Parr in The Incredibles
Having given up a career in order to be a stay-at-home mom for her kids, Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) is a literal superhero. Starring Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, and Samuel L. Jackson, The Incredibles is, at its heart, a story about family. A family that Hunter’s Elastigirl holds together, quite literally at times, with her extremely stretchable hands.
And like most mothers, Helen has to put up with a bull-headed husband who would rather relive his glory days as a superhero than lie low and make sure his family can have some semblance of a normal life. And she does so alone and underappreciated. Despite this, she still powers through, at one point becoming a literal boat in order to carry her family to safety on her back.
VILLAIN: Wanda Holloway in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom
Double shot of Holly Hunter. One of two films put out in the early 90s about this true story, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, stars Hunter, Beau Bridges, and Swoosie Kurtz. Being denied the opportunity to try out for cheerleading as a child, adult Wanda Holloway (Hunter) is determined to live that dream vicariously through her daughter. Problem is, her daughter isn’t that good at cheerleading.
That’s okay, because Wanda has a plan. Practice, practice, practice. But also, just have someone kill their neighbor and “rival” cheerleader, along with the girl’s mother, thus freeing up a spot on the team for her cheer-challenged daughter. Instead, Wanda’s brother-in-law turns her in to the cops.
After serving only six months due to a technicality, Wanda and her daughter move to California, where her daughter tries her hand at something a little less competitive than cheerleading… acting and modeling.
HERO: Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) will do anything to protect her son. Even going up against murdering, unkillable robot assassins. If that’s not a mother’s love, I don’t know what is. Years after fighting not just for the future of her unborn child but for the future of the entire world, Sarah finds herself in another fight for the life of her son, (Edward Furlong) who has yet again become the target of a time-travelling murder bot.
Luckily, Sarah has been training for this day ever since she bested the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the original The Terminator. She’s back with a vengeance, hell-bent on protecting her son at any cost.
VILLAIN: Mary in Precious
This performance by Mo’Nique is something else. It’s award-winning, for one. It’s bleak as all hell, for another. Physically and emotionally abusive, Mo’Nique’s Mary blames her sixteen-year-old daughter, Precious, for being raped by her father and impregnated by him twice. She blames Precious for “letting” her father molest her and “taking her man away.” She also calls Precious’s first child, who has Down Syndrome “Mongo,” short for Mongoloid.
Precious finally sees her mom for exactly who she is, and tells her she’ll never see her or her grandkids again. Precious goes to start a new life, leaving her mom behind and alone.
HERO: Phyllis Nefler in Troop Beverly Hills
Played by Shelley Long, Phyllis Nefler is anything but conventional. While going through a rough divorce, Nefler becomes the leader of a Wilderness Girls troop in order to bond with her daughter. Instead of the wilderness badges they’re supposed to be getting, Nefler makes new badges as she teaches them about the finer things in life… how to survive in the wilds of Beverly Hills. When her out-there antics run afoul of another local troop leader, she tries to have Nefler booted from the troop.
But this backfires as all her nosing does is expose the truth about Nefler… she cares about these kids. She provides them with life lessons, insight, and self esteem that wasn’t there before. And she spends all her time hanging out with other people’s kids. That in and of itself is worthy of being a hero.
VILLAIN: LaVona Golden in I, Tonya
A controlling, abusive woman, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) spends most of her daughter Tonya Harding’s (Margot Robbie) childhood berating her and telling her she’ll never be good enough to amount to anything. She forces her daughter to go into skating, telling her the other little girls out there are her enemy and to treat them as such. This sets Tonya up for a lifetime of bad relationships, including one date where her mother goes along to chaperone and then asks her teenage daughter whether or not she and her date have been having sex. Typical good parenting.
However, LaVona claims to have done all these terrible things out of love, telling Tonya that all the negativity throughout her childhood years spurred her on to be something great, saying, “I made you a champion knowing you would hate me for it. That’s the sacrifice a mother makes.”
So, this Mother’s Day, give your moms what they deserve, whatever that means to you.