Streaming: the best movies about motherhood | dramatic films

WWe often talk a little flippantly about movie stars over a certain age being cast in “mommy roles”: bland supportive background figures who simply show up to nag or nurture when necessary. “Mom” shouldn’t be synonymous with the lazier, less-dimensional, less-dimensional instincts of mainstream cinema when it comes to female characterization; the best movies about motherhood treat it as a state of being, not just a balm for others.

Many of the so-called “women’s movies” of Hollywood’s golden age relied on complex and conflicting portrayals of motherhood. King Vidor’s excellent 1937 version of stella dallas (Amazon Prime Video) is the mother-daughter cry to end them all, propelled by Barbara Stanwyck’s heartbreaking performance as a working-class woman who abandons her daughter to ensure a better life for her. Twenty-two years later, equal themes of self-sacrifice and class subversion merged with surprisingly sharp racial politics in Douglas Sirk’s magnificent work. imitation of lifein which a white woman and her black maid are bound by strained relationships with their respective daughters.

‘The crying mother-daughter to end them all’: Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Shirley in Stella Dallas (1937). Alamy

In 1946, Joan Crawford won an Oscar for one of Hollywood’s most enduring portrayals of single motherhood, Mildred Pierce. Facing the challenges of self-employment and a toxically ungrateful daughter, the title character comes across as a noble bastion of feminine resilience; it’s a rather unnerving double feature with Crawford’s riveting cult biopic. mommy dear (1981), in which the screen diva’s alleged litany of maternal abuse is laid out so indelibly.

As a widowed merchant protecting her young daughter from the brutality of World War II, another Oscar winner, Sophia Loren, becomes a virtual monument to maternal suffering in Vittorio De Sica’s work. Two women (1960): Every one of his defiant poses or tense, anguished expressions are shot in the manner of a religious icon. In the ’70s, single-mom survival stories could take on a more laid-back, funky form, like in Martin Scorsese’s charming and underappreciated film. Alice doesn’t live here anymoreilluminated by Ellen Burstyn’s warm and vivid turn as a widow wandering America in search of a better life for her son, but not without regard for her own desires and pleasures.

The quintessential mom movie of the 1980s, James L. Brooks’ Oscar-guzzling hit terms of endearment, she played it both ways, combining the classic, tearful drama of feuding mother and daughter with a gleefully lusty celebration of middle-aged libido — Shirley MacLaine made it all work. Tremendous by Pedro Almodóvar Everything about my mother (1999), meanwhile, reflected on what to do with care and maternal instincts after the loss of a child, finding a new entangled queer community for Cecilia Roth’s grieving nurse to heal.

Annette Bening with Lucas Jade Zumann in Women of the 20th Century.
‘Never Better’: Annette Bening, with Lucas Jade Zumann, in 20th Century Women. Alamy

Almodóvar dedicated his film to “all women who want to be mothers”, including his own; other filmmakers have honored their mothers with more specifically custom portraits. Greta Gerwig poured her own adolescent experience into her wonderful lady bird (2017), a bittersweet study of a recalcitrant teenager and her exhausted mother working to regain a lost mutual understanding. Since the same year, Mike Mills’ painfully affectionate 20th century women she reflects on her upbringing by an independent mother (never better Annette Bening) straddling different currents of feminism. Chantal Akerman, for her part, directly documented her relationship with her mother through the latter’s letters in her tender documentary. news from home (1977; BFI player). We never see the older woman, but her words, read over haunting images from the filmmaker’s adopted home in New York, record the intimacy of separation.

Recently, thornier and more tumultuous views of motherhood have become normalized, as in Xavier Dolan’s bruises. Mommy (2014), which investigates the invisible divide between love and hate in a mother’s relationship with her agitated son, or in Lynne Ramsay’s gut punch. we need to talk about kevin (2011), which responds to the fear of all future parents that they may never bond with their child.

Regina Williams sits on a bus a couple of rows behind Andrew Bleechington, who plays her son, in Life and Nothing More.
‘Motherly Duty’: Regina Williams (center) and Andrew Bleechington (front right) in Life and Nothing More. Alamy

Maggie Gyllenhaal is psychologically intricate the lost daughter (2011; Netflix) dared to sympathize with a mother who only finds herself when she leaves her children. Bong Joon-ho’s 2009 savage noir Mother (currently free on ITVX), meanwhile, questions the extremes of maternal loyalty when a mother goes to great lengths to get her son off a murder charge. And finally, the criminally underseen by Antonio Méndez Esparza life and nothing else (2017; Amazon Prime) offers one of the great modern portraits of maternal duty in the face of social and economic repression as its protagonist (an astonishing Regina Williams) negotiates the struggles for care and self-care for a minimum wage. “Mommy papers” have never been more important.

All titles are available to rent on multiple platforms unless otherwise specified

Also new to streaming and DVD

Bengal BFI 2023
(BFI Player)
Britain’s biggest LGBTQ film festival has returned to a predominantly in-person edition, but for those who can’t make it, a vibrant range of short films from this year’s program are available to stream for free, while a selection of features from previous editions of Flare accompanies it. is available to subscribers.

empire of light
A curious piece of nostalgia from director Sam Mendes, this portrait of damaged souls connecting in a seaside picture palace in 1980s Britain feels like a multiplex full of stories put together: an interracial romance from May to December, an anguished study of schizophrenia, a scintillating hymn to the magic of cinema. He is sincere but awkward.

Olivia Colman in Empire of Light.
Olivia Colman in Empire of Light. Movie Store/Rex/Shutterstock

(Cinema from heaven)
A screen return for Raymond Chandler’s iconic rubber shoe Philip Marlowe was a welcome idea in the role. Sadly, Neil Jordan’s misconstrued and ill-conceived mystery, based on the novel by John Banville The black-eyed blondeit’s a hollow pastiche that does almost nothing right, from the eccentric anachronisms of the dialogue to Liam Neeson’s increasingly bully turn in the title role.

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