Mothers Day: Stream Selected Films About Mothers and Daughters

Mildred Pierce 1945 Based on the novel by James M. Cain. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Psychologically oriented noir. Told in flashback after a murder. Mildred (Joan Crawford-Best Actress Academy Award) works her way up from waitress to owner of a successful restaurant chain in an effort to give materialistic, social-climbing daughter Veda (Ann Blythe) a life above their economic level and background. Early days of low level jobs elicit only derision from the ungrateful girl.

Mildred gets involved with playboy Monte Bergeron (Zachary Scott) in part to acquire real estate. Veda secretly marries rich Ted Forrester for money and position. When his mother objects, the girl blackmails his family. Horrified, Mildred throws Veda out, but takes her back discovering the girl’s been “reduced” to singing in a sleazy nightclub. Mildred then marries Monte for the same reasons Veda seduced Ted. The liaison leads to murder. With Jack Carson and Eve Arden.

Crawford campaigned for the lead role which most lead actresses eschewed because of the implied age as mother of a teenage daughter. She then exerted sufficient control to have the character hardly change appearance over the years. Curtiz never wanted her, as a result of which they were often at odds on set. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Pinky 1949 Adapted from Philip Dunne/Dudley Nichols novel Quality. Directed by Elia Kazan. An earnest race drama for which all three main actresses, Jeanne Crain (not physically credible), Ethel Barrymore, and Ethel Waters were nominated for Academy Awards. Light skinned Negro, Pinky Johnson (Jeanne Crain), was sent up north from an impoverished, segregated, southern upbringing to give her a chance at a better life. Her grandmother, “Aunt Dicey” to the community (Ethel Waters), took in laundry to send Pinky through nursing school. The young woman has consistently passed for white.

Running from inability to share her heritage with Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan), the man she loves, Pat/Pinky returns to her ramshackle home only to be faced with bigoted mistreatment and literal danger. Dicey conscripts her to act as nurse to dying Miss. Em (Ethel Barrymore) about whom they share opposite feelings. Dicey does the old woman’s laundry for free aware that her pillared mansion belies a woman with few resources and only a single mercenary relative. She and Miss Em have become such friends (each in her place), that Miss Em nursed Dicey through pneumonia.

Pinky remembers being unceremoniously thrown out of Miss Em’s garden as a child, can’t comprehend her not paying Dicey (after all, she has expensive possessions), and resents her imperious manner. In the end, however, she complies, getting to know an obstreperous old woman who’s not what she seems. When Tom shows up, he’s told the truth, but still accepts her. No one up north will know. The balance is radically, publicly tipped with Miss Em’s Will. Life paths change. Believable? You judge.

Both Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge were interested in playing the role of Pinky. Elia Kazan, who took over directing duties after John Ford was fired, was not happy with the casting choice. He later said, “Jeanne Crain was a sweet girl, but she was like a Sunday school teacher.” Members of the Board of Censors in a Texas town testified that they objected to the picture because it depicts (1) a white man retaining his love for a woman after learning that she is a Negro, (2) a white man kissing and embracing a Negro woman, and (3) two white ruffians assaulting Pinky after she has told them she is colored. The exhibitor was convicted and fined $200. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Mommie Dearest 1981 Adapted from the autobiography of Christina Crawford. Directed by Frank Perry. A caricature portrait derided by critics but flocked to by audiences for its camp appeal. Joan Crawford is played by Faye Dunaway as compulsive/obsessive, narcissistic and manipulative; as having adopted children to soften her public persona then being distant and cruel to the children; as being monumentally insecure. Wildly over the top. With Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard Da Silva.

According to Dunaway, producer Frank Yablans promised her in the casting process that his intention was to portray Joan Crawford in a more moderate way than in Christina Crawford’s book. HA! Dunaway manipulated the director to deprive other actors of screen time and required members of the cast to turn their backs when not in the shot so she’d have no audience. In 2016, the film’s star expressed regret over taking the role and blamed it for causing a decline in her Hollywood career. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Terms of Endearment 1983 Adapted from the Larry McMurtry novel. Produced, Written and Directed by James L. Brooks. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards. Widowed, selfish, femme fatale, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) vociferously objects to the marriage of her daughter, Emma (Debra Winger), to feckless college professor, Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels) – probably Emma’s first love. A breach is established. The young couple move away and have three children.

Finances are difficult. Flap is no help with the kids and has a series of affairs culminating with a regular girlfriend. Lonely Emma has one. Back home, Aurora makes a play for randy neighbor, retired astronaut, obvious womanizer, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). The actors’ scenes together create fine black comedy. Then, Emma gets terminal cancer. With John Lithgow, Danny DeVito. A traditional tear-jerker made palatable by more interesting characters and performance level. The part of Garret Breedlove was written for Burt Reynolds who had other commitments. Free with Amazon Prime.

Mermaids 1990 Based on the novel by Patty Dann. Directed by Richard Benjamin. A Dramady with quirky characters set in the early 1960s. Each time flamboyant Rachel Flax (Cher) ends a relationship, she packs up embarrassed daughters Kate (Christina Ricci) and Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and moves. We find them in Massachusetts. Obsessed with Catholicism, particularly sin, teenage Charlotte becomes involved with Joe Poretti (Michael  Schoeffling), the 26-year-old caretaker of a next door convent. She’s so naive she visits an obstetrician after they kiss.

Meanwhile Rachel starts seeing sweet, local shoe store owner Lou Landsky (Bob Hoskins) who wants to marry her but is not divorced. Relationships are volatile. Charlotte runs away, jealousy is misplaced, Joe and Charlotte have sex, Kate nearly drowns, reputations change, roles adjust, Rachel becomes a bit more maternal. Well written, well acted. Free on Amazon Prime.

The Joy Luck Club 1993 Based on the novel by Amy Tan about relationships between Chinese American women and their Chinese immigrant mothers. Directed by Wayne Wang. In San Francisco, four Chinese immigrant women meet regularly to play mahjong and discuss their daughters. We see their histories, that of their adult daughters, communication and adjustment issues.

Stories present Asians in a much less cliché light than prior to this film. The women are interesting, culture illuminating. Voice-overs compress the original story without altering the plot. There were no known Hollywood movies with an all-Asian cast at the time, and making a film with Chinese protagonists was risky because Asian actors were not familiar to American audiences. Free with Amazon Prime.

Because I Said So 2007 Directed by Michael Lehmann. Romantic comedy. Overbearing mother Daphne (Diane Keaton) is concerned that Milly (Mandy Moore), the youngest of her three daughters, is neither in a long term relationship nor married (like the other two). She secretly places a personal ad for Milly screening candidates in person. Men find this a bit odd, but charming.

Daphne choreographs a “chance” meeting between her pick, a businessman named Jason (Tom Everett Scott), arming him with information about Milly’s tastes. At the same time, however, her daughter meets Johnny (Gabriel Macht), a musician her mother had previously rejected as unsuitable. Undecided, Milly juggles both men with Daphne interfering. Eventually she discovers how Jason came into her life. Meanwhile, Daphne unexpectedly finds someone of her own. Bright and cheerful. Rotton Tomatoes called it “over-reliant on caricatures,” but sometimes a warm bath is what’s needed.  Rent on Amazon Prime.

Mothers and Daughters 2016 Directed by Paul Duddridge. A large, mostly recognizable ensemble cast creates sometimes overlapping stories of mothers and daughters. Becca was raised by a mother who turned out to be her grandmother. Rigby, who is single, avoids visiting a mother who has dementia then gets pregnant changing her perspective. Georgina is being sought by a now grown child she gave up as a teenager. Millie hasn’t seen daughter Gayle in two years despite trying on a regular basis to breach the gap with more than money. Layla doesn’t want to ask her influential mother for help in her secretly pursued profession…

Men of all types are secondary. Trying to fit in as much variety as possible makes the piece dense, but there are many satisfying acting turns and relatable stories. Everyone is good looking. Featuring, in part, Selma Blair, Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon, Mira Sorvino, Sharon Stone, Courteney Cox, and Christina Ricci. Free with Amazon Prime.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Alix Cohen (1751 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.