Mothers & daughters: a film staple

Since movies began to talk, they have been fascinated with the relationships between mothers and daughters. As Ricki and the Flash tries to examine one author’s idea of family complexity, let’s take a look at some classic mother-daughter confrontations on film over the years.

Postcards from the Edge (1990)

Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine deliver fascinating performances in this hilarious, human and touching story of an ego-driven mother who tries to smother her insecure daughter with well-staged affection. Written by Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds, the film brims with honesty as mother and daughter try to figure out why they drive each other crazy. And make us think and smile.

Terms of Endearment (1982)

Shirley MacLaine won a well-deserved Oscar for creating a mother to end all mothers, an outrageous caricature of a woman with a heart as deep as the heart of Texas. With Debra Winger as the daughter, MacLaine electrifies the screen in a performance filled with pent-up outrage built over years of under use by Hollywood in less than demanding films. And she makes us want to have dinner with this woman named Aurora Greenway.

Steel Magnolias (1990)

While Shirley MacLaine creates one of her most amusing characters – a dowager named Quiza – Sally Field and Julia Roberts travel the bumpy road of mother and daughter who have strong ideas of how a healthy life should be led. With Field at her most maternal, and Roberts at her most winning, the two create real energy from a script that Robert Harling based on his sister’s life. His connection with the material rings true.

August Osage County (2013)

Meryl Streep finds herself at the center of a dysfunctional relationship with a determined daughter in this adaptation of the Broadway play. While Streep creates a memorable turn as a woman laden with chemical, physical and emotional challenges, Julia Roberts is less successful turning the daughter into a developed character of substance. When Julia plays serious, for some reason, she can be less appealing on screen.

Autumn Sonata (1978)

In real life, the great Ingrid Bergman reportedly had challenging moments with her daughter, Pia Lindstrom. On screen, in her final Oscar-nominated performance, this wondrous actress dares to bring some of that reality to a seering portrayal of an ego-driven artist who has spent a life putting work before family. As she can sense the end of her life, she now awkwardly reaches out to a daughter who long ago realized what part she plays.

The Turning Point (1977)

Shirley MacLaine again finds herself as a mother trying to figure out how to relate to her daughter in this tribute to the ambitions of ballet dancers. Complicating Shirley’s efforts are the competing attentions from her longtime friend and rival, essayed by Anne Bancroft, who would like to forge her own connection. And it all results in one of the best cat fights recorded on film.

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Joan Crawford is well known for her off-screen relationship with daughter Christina. On screen, she is at odds with a devious Ann Blyth in this classic melodrama based on a novel by James Cain. Crawford is at her possessive best as a mother who devotes herself to her daughter while secretly maintaining a bitterness that surfaces at the least convenient moments. When she won an Oscar for her performance, Crawford became the first glamorous movie star to secure Academy attention by dressing down.

Yes, the movies love mothers and daughters. And so do we.

See you at the movies.

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