Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It’s a testament to the esteem we hold mom that Mother’s Day is the second-biggest holiday for retailers, right behind the winter holiday season. Father’s Day? That ranks behind Valentine’s Day and Easter, and just above the Super Bowl.
The movies have presented many positive parental role models; self-sacrificing paragons of unconditional love and understanding. These are great parts to play. Think Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Dallas, Greer Garson as Mrs. Miniver, or Patricia Arquette in her Oscar-winning role as the mother in “Boyhood,” which really should have been called, “Motherhood.”
But it’s always more fun to play bad. Actors love the scene-stealing villain role. Women have yet to seek world domination in a James Bond movie. But they have achieved child domination in several notable films. Because when movie moms are good, they are very good, but when they’re bad, they’re terrific…or should we say, horrific.
Take Mary Tyler Moore in “Ordinary People.” Please. Devastated by the tragic death of her eldest son, she is cold to the palpable pain felt by her youngest son, who tried to take his own life. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, she can’t even stand to be in the same picture with him. Hardly a Kodak moment.
Danny DeVito recruits Billy Crystal to pull a “Strangers on a Train” and murder his mother? Harsh? To meet Mrs. Lift is to want to “Throw Mama from the Train.”
Of course, no list of malevolent movie moms would be complete with Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest,” based on the devastating tell-all written by her daughter. What Mrs. Bates (more on her later) did for showers, so did Joan do for wire hangers.
Jewish mothers. That’s all you need to say, really. They’ve been a fount of inspiration and frustration for countless authors and comedians. These aren’t just helicopter parents; they’re Blackhawk parents. In “New York Stories,” Woody Allen conjured up his ultimate nightmare as his mother, following a failed magic trick, appears in the New York sky to noodge his son about his private life for all to see and hear.
And then there’s the aforementioned Mrs. Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Pyscho.” A boy’s best friend is his mother, son Norman insists, but not in this nutcase.
But for someone without a shred of maternal instinct, it’s hard to top Angela Lansbury in “the Manchurian Candidate. A Soviet operative, she grooms and manipulates her brainwashed son into becoming an assassin.
Your turn: Cast your vote below for your favorite movie or TV mom—good or bad.