Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day III: The Final Conflict

By World O' Crap's Movie Mothers Maven, Bill S.

Once again, Mother's Day is upon us, and it's time to pay tribute to the Moms who remind us how lucky we are to have the Moms we had (unless yours was worse than these, in which case, I'm deeply sorry).  

Worst Movie Moms (Previous installments in this series may be found here and here.)

Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) and Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) in Imitation of Life (1959): I hesitated before putting the heroines of this classic tearjerker on the list, because they aren't really bad people, in that they aren't mean or unloving or stupid. In fact, Annie's one of the nicest people imaginable (although  in the 1934 version, the mothers -- played by Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers -- aren't nearly as screwy). But nice people can still make bad decisions, and neither of these moms is a good role model. Lora spends so much focus on her career she keeps boyfriend Steve (John Gavin) at a distance, and doesn't keep a good eye on daughter Susie (Sandra Dee). Her priorities are misplaced, so she takes Susie's crush on Steve way too seriously. Which is silly -- we know nothing's going to happen because, A.) her boyfriend's a decent guy, B.) her daughter's just a kid, and Lolita won't be made for another three years, and C.) she looks like Lana freakin' Turner.
As for Annie, she means well but is clueless about her daughter's racial identity problems, and doesn't teach her to have any pride in her race -- the most she says is that it's nothing to be ashamed of (Seriously?) Heck*, she doesn't even get that ANY kid would be mortified to have her mom show up at school with her galoshes.
The unnamed Stepmother (Vera Altayskaya) in Jack Frost (the 1965 Russian fantasy, not the unwatchable Christmas flick from the '90's): To the heroine, Nastenka, she's the familiar wicked stepmother of fairy tales, treating her like a slave and threatening to tear out her braids if the girl disobeys. **  But she's just as terrible to her biological daughter Marfushka. She's so eager to see her married off she arranges a date with a man who resembles Mortimer Snerd (Aw, thanks, Mom!), but still has so little faith in Marfushka's chances she hides her prettier stepdaughter (Really, thanks, Mom!). When the day ends in disaster, with Marfuska humiliated and reduced to tears, her mother slaps her. (Really, thanks!) and, finally, having exhausted all other possibilities, has her husband drag her daughter into the woods to risk hypothermia, in the hopes a wizard will happen by and conjure up a fiance. Sheesh, who knows what crap Marfushka put up with before her mom remarried and found a new target? Child abuse doesn't create docile, obedient angels like Nastenka, it produces wounded animals, which is how Marfushka comes across.***
Catarina Silveri (Jill Clayburgh) in Luna (1979) [suggested by Scott]: I've never seen Bernardo Bertolucci's '70's drama, but I do remember the controversy it generated with its tale of an opera diva who attempts to rid her son of his drug habit by, um, having sex with him. That is the exact wrong definition of a MILF. Also, I'm not sure incest is a medically sound treatment for herion addiction. But maybe the kid was allergic to methadone.

Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) in The Goonies (1985): Kept her deformed, mentally challenged son chained up, and raised her other boys to becomes ruthless thieves and murderers (but since they were Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano, it probably couldn't be helped). On top of which, did you see how filthy and unsanitary that lair was? I don't care if you are a vicious hoodlum who threatens to mutilate a boy's hand if he doesn't rat out his friends, you could still fill a bucket with suds, get some rags and give that place a scrubdown. I mean, heavens, woman, even Lady MacBeth found time for a little housework.

Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) in Soapdish (1991): When you bear a child out of wedlock and try to pass the child off as your niece, and keep the charade up for 20 years, you should probably tell the truth BEFORE something awkward happens -- like your daughter accidently dating her father. But hey, Celeste wasn't a genius, just a working actress.
"I'm guilty of love -- in the first degree!"

Vera Cosgrove (Elizabeth Moody) in Braindead AKA Dead Alive (1992) [suggested by Doc Logan]: Not content to merely make her son's life miserable while she was alive, Vera then rudely turned into a zombie, and then converted the neighbors into the walking dead. Which really brought down the property values in that neighborhood.

Rose Chausseur (Glynis Johns) in The Ref (1994): Just how mean, controlling, and miserly was she? Well, lemme put it this way: when an escaped convict (Denis Leary) who's holding the family hostage, threatens to shoot her...nobody objects.

Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty) in But I'm a Cheerleader! (1999): What would motivate housewife Mary to open up a camp to "cure" gay teens, especially when she has no training as a counselor? Perhaps she felt her own experience as a mother more than qualified her to set those kids on the righteous path. After all, her own son, Rock (Eddie Cibrian) turned out COMPLETELY het...
...oooooh! Okay, mystery solved. Moving on...

Petal (Cate Blanchett) in The Shipping News (2001)**** [suggested by Chris Vosburg]: Has sex with Quoyle (Kevin Spacey), her daughter's father, almost immediately, then after moving in with him, continues to pick up strangers, bring them to the house, and bang them with her daughter and husband in the other room. When Quoyle's father commits suicide, and leaves him broke, she takes off with her daughter and sells the child on the black market. Fortunately she kept a copy of the receipt and Quoyle was able to get the kid back.

Ingrid Magnussen (Michelle Pfeiffer) in White Oleander (2002) [suggested by trashfire]: Abandoned daughter Astrid (Alison Lohmann) for a year when the child kept cutting into her "Me" time with selfish demands for food and baths and love and attention. But, as she explains, "You're misssing the important part -- I came BACK!" She then pays a visit to her lover and poisons him, while Astrid waits for her in the car (at least she remembered to crack the window). She later drives Astrid's second foster mom -- a perfectly nice woman -- to suicide. Her life philosophy is, "Love humilates you. Hatred cradles you, it's soothing." I guess she wanted to soothe Astrid completely out of her life.

BONUS BAD MOM -- Starr (Robin Wright Penn), Astrid's first foster mother. A born-again Christian who didn't quite live up to the teachings of Jesus. She drives her own daughter out of the house, and in a deleted scene included as an extra on the video, beats one son badly enough for him to land in a hospital. When her boyfriend Ray (Cole Hauser, which should have been a red flag), begins showing Astrid more attention than an adult should pay a teenage girl, Starr responds the way any ordinary adult would -- by shooting the kid. (Which kinda puts Lora Meredith in perspective).

Worst TV Moms

Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), Arrested Development. Two words: Mother boy.

Dallas Royce (Cheryl Hines), Suburgatory. "We don't allow Dalia to have hard liquor on a school night."

Mama Harper (Vicki Lawrence), the "Family" skits on The Carol Burnett Show. Repeatedly told daughter Eunice (Burnett) that she was a dumb, untalented loser who'd never amount to anything. Which was pretty much true, but, hey, that's no reason to keep rubbing it in.
"Aw lay off her Ed! Poor baby, cain't you see she's FAILED agin!"

*Annie's so nice I can't even swear around her.
** The first couple times I saw this movie, I thought they were saying "brain", not "braid", which made her even scarier.
***I don't think the filmmakers saw it that way. They pile on one last humiliation for Marfushka after the poor girl finally snaps and opens a can of whoop-ass on Jack Frost when he tries to pull that creepy "Are you warm, my little one?" crap that worked so well on her more trusting sibling.
****expect to see this movie turn up in next month's Father's Day column.

So, that's this year's crop of bad Mamas.  Please leave any suggestions for next year's harvest below.  And here's wishing all the great Moms -- and you know who you are, and more importantly, so do your kids (I hope) -- a Very Happy Mother's Day! 

-Bill S


R. Porrofatto said...

Savage Grace, based on the true Barbara Baekeland story. Mom is Julianne Moore, and she really does have a sexual relationship with her son Tony, to cure him of his homosexuality and maybe his drug addiction, or just because she is incredibly fucked up. Her therapeutic efforts, umm, backfire, and Tony eventually murders Mom and thereafter kills himself in jail*. It's fun for the whole family.

(The movie is not good, but I had occasion to read the original book, which is interesting because it's filled with long, catty interviews with family friends, and their own words are the most severe indictment of this class of inherited-├╝berwealth sybarites one can imagine.)


Carl said...

From Scrubs, Mrs Perry Cox (Jordan)

Bill the Splut said...

Well, having just watched The Grifters yesterday, Anjelica Houston's role.

grouchomarxist said...


Sian Phillips as Livia, in I, Claudius

Diana Rigg as Helen Vesey, in Mother Love


Since you already mentioned Margaret Wycherley's superb Ma Jarrett, I'll see you and raise you a wildly over-the-top Shelley Winters as Ma Barker in Bloody Mama

Li'l Innocent said...

I'm not sure this qualifies, but how about the unseen, unknown mother of "Buffalo Bill", the pathetic serial kidnaper/killer in "Silence of the Lambs"?

There's the scene where Jodi Foster goes to the dark, abandoned house where the killer spent his childhood alone with his seamstress mother, and you get a glimpse of the dusty, unfinished dress in the closet with the darts cut out of it exactly as "Bill" cuts out darts from his victims, plus Hannibal Lecter's remark that Bill is a "monster made, not born"... bad. Bad mother.