Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - All in the Family Edition: Mother-Daughter Relationships


Written for the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can play, too: Just pick three films that match the week's theme!

This month's All in the Family Edition of Thursday Movie Picks focuses on that trickiest of familial relationships: Mothers and Daughters. These can be either the most loving or the most toxic relationships in a family. I've chosen to focus this week on the latter type, since they're usually more fun. I've included some spoilers for these films, and on the off-chance you haven't seen them (and really, you should, since these are all GREAT films), I've put them in white text. Just highlight and you'll be able to read.

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) Poor Erica Sayers. She got knocked up while in the corps of one of the most prestigious ballet companies in America, and it ended her career. Thankfully, she had a daughter that she could raise in her image. All she wanted for her daughter, Nina, was for her to grow up into the prima ballerina Erica herself never got the chance to be. But then her daughter went and got herself some psychological problems, and poor Erica had to work even harder to keep her daughter safe. And then, Nina finally gets noticed by the smarmy Artistic Director of the ballet company and gets the lead in Swan Lake, playing both Odile and Odette! Erica is so excited for her daughter, but this honor goes straight to Nina's head - she starts going out late at night, and locking herself in her bedroom, and stealing things from the company's former lead dancer. What happened to Erica's sweet little girl? And then Nina's crazy starts to manifest again, and despite all Erica does to keep her out of the spotlight that is clearly driving her insane, what does her ungrateful little daughter do? She FUCKING STABS HERSELF IN THE STOMACH WITH A PIECE OF BROKEN MIRROR AND DANCES UNTIL SHE FUCKING DIES. Poor Erica.
Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959) Annie Johnson is a sweetheart, beloved by all who come into contact with her. Except, that is, for her daughter Sarah Jane. You see, it is the late 40s and early 50s, and Sarah Jane is light-skinned enough (thanks to her father) that she can pass for white. This is something Annie cannot do and is not interested in doing. But as girls grow up, parents have less and less control over them, and soon enough Sarah Jane has graduated from high school and is working at the local library and dating a nice boy from the church. Or so she told her mother. In reality, she was dating a white boy who beat her when he found out she was black, and working as a performer in a seedy nightclub. When Annie finds out about this job, she rushes off to save her daughter, as any mother would. But the girl won't leave, and the commotion causes her to get fired. So she runs away, breaking her poor mother's heart. And what happens next between them will break your heart, too, unless you're a robot, because the final scenes of this version of Imitation of Life make it the single most effective tear-jerker in Hollywood history.
Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) Veda Pierce is the biggest little shit of them all. How exactly she got that way is admittedly a bit of a mystery, since her mother is a hard worker who had to scrape and save and work her ass off to get what little she has. But Veda is an aspiring classical musician, and only has eyes for the finer things in life, which her mother who loves her dearly continues to provide - despite it forcing her to live beyond her means. And how does Veda thank her mother for her wonderful life? She puts the moves on her mother's husband (in James M. Cain's novel and Todd Haynes's miniseries with Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood, she has a full-blown affair with him), and after he rebuffs her, she FUCKING SHOOTS HIM. And what does our dear Mildred do? She LIES TO SAVE THE LITTLE SHIT. Or at least, she tries to, but can't quite bring herself to go through with it. Which is fine, because no one should be able to slap Joan Crawford and get away with it.

26 comments:

  1. Haven't seen the older of your two selections, but I have seen Black Swan and that is a dark, dark film. It does, however, capture your attention.

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    1. Black Swan so captured me that I saw it twice in theaters. I love it so.

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  2. Black Swan - great pick.
    I watched Imitation of Life this week too! A real tough one.

    http://assholeswatchingmovies.com/

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, there is a LOT to unpack in Imitation of Life, especially when you consider the original source material is from the 1930s, and inspired a movie made in that period with Claudette Colbert, which is apparently also very good. For me, it's probably the greatest melodrama ever made. Like, usually I can distance myself from Sirk's films at least a little bit, but not with this one. There's something too real and raw in the relationship between Annie and Sarah Jane, especially in their last scene together and the film's final scene. It just destroys me.

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  3. Imitation of Life!!! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought of that one. Such a wonderful film, and MY GOD that ending. Love Mildred Pierce too! LOL, at your spoilers! Black Swan is not a favorite of mine, but it's a technical marvel, so there's that :-D

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    1. Imitation of Life is glorious! I could have included something about Lana Turner and Sandra Dee's relationship too, but I just didn't feel like writing that much hehe. I adore Black Swan, but then, it contains pretty much everything I like, so it's like it was created in a lab specifically for me LOL.

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  4. Oh Dan some of our tastes are so similar! We even picked one of the same movies this week. Of course the Mildred/Vida dynamic is the centerpiece of the film but I love the brief one Mildred shares with her other daughter Kay. That little girl, Jo Ann Marlowe, is terrific in the role and I think what happens to her is a huge pivot of the plot.

    Imitation of Life is a huge favorite as well. I could gush endlessly but I'll just say it's everything you need in a plush soaper. Sirk manages to make it completely enjoyable and still make sharp observations.

    I like Black Swan but don't love it however Barbara Hershey is great as Erica, the birthday cake scene is as scary as anything else in the movie.

    Here's my three and an extra that I thought would be on many lists but I haven't seen turn up yet.

    Gypsy (1962)-Musicalized version of Gypsy Rose Lee's youth, life in vaudeville and growing up on the road as part of her sister Baby June's act and her relationship with the biggest stage mother of them all, Mama Rose. Mama Rose is so consumed with ambition that her daughters are going to be stars that she's do almost anything and ride over anyone in her mad drive. Great music, terrific performances by Rosalind Russell as a megalomaniac of gigantic proportions and Natalie Wood as the at first complacent daughter who finally declares her independence.

    Mildred Pierce (1945)-Noirish study of a woman locked into a masochistic relationship with her grasping selfish daughter which drives her to the heights of success only to find emptiness and betrayal. Joan Crawford won an Oscar as the career woman whose slavish devotion to her pit viper of a daughter proves her undoing. Ann Blyth, Eve Arden (both Oscar nominated) Jack Carson (who should have been) and Zachary Scott lend excellent support.

    Stella Dallas (1937)-A story of the ultimate in motherly sacrifice. Stella, played by Barbara Stanwyck in an amazing performance, is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks-a loud, vulgar but loving woman who meets and falls for a man from the upper class. They marry, have a daughter and split up shortly after, the bulk of the film is devoted to the strong relationship of Stella and her daughter Laurel. Stanwyck's last scene is a piece of great movie acting.

    Honorable mention-Steel Magnolias (1989)-Equally headstrong mother (Sally Field) and daughter (Julia Roberts) butt heads through the years as the mother worries over the daughter's fragile health and the girl fights to live life on her own terms all the while surrounded by a close-knit group of woman friends who meet regularly at Truvy's beauty salon. Funny and sad just like life this has a strong message about the value of friendship and the mother/daughter bond.

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    1. I always forget about the youngest daughter in Mildred Pierce, but you're right. It is a huge pivot point for the characters and the plot. And as fantastically bitchy as Ann Blyth is as Veda, Jo Ann Marlowe is just as good as Kay. Imitation of Life is just the greatest melodrama ever. I saw it for the first time about a year or so ago and I still don't think I've stopped crying. The cake in Black Swan. OMG you are so right. "Fine. Then it's garbage." I wanted to use a picture of it for this but there isn't really a moment when you can see both of them well. Hershey is so fantastic despite limited screen time. She strikes the exact right tone for the film.

      As for your picks, I like elements of Gypsy (mostly Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell) but not so much the whole. Obviously I love Mildred Pierce and you are so right about Jack Carson deserving an Oscar nom. I haven't seen Stella Dallas but I love Stanwyck so it's on my list.

      I haven't seen Steel Magnolias. Don't tell anyone; I'm afraid if they find out, they'll take away my gay card lol!

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    2. What!!! No Steel Magnolias! How is that possible?! Well something to look forward too. Everybody is good but Sally Field is brilliant and how she didn't get at least a nomination for this is just nuts.

      Gypsy could have moved at a livelier clip but it's got great music and as you said Natalie and Roz. Mama Rose is an off-putting character but from what I've read Gypsy Rose Lee actually softened her considerably, there was a VERY suspicious shooting that she was involved in that was declared accidental but the facts don't sound like that was the case and that's just one incident! Russell does manage to shade Mama Rose and make her mad drive at least somewhat understandable but it's a shame that Ethel Merman didn't get a chance to commit her legendary performance to film.

      Stella Dallas suffers a bit from some clunky filming techniques but Stanwyck will blow you away, like I said the ending is killer.

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    3. That cake scene! The mother is so manipulative controlling her adult daughter like a child...I mean look at Nina's room...it's a child's room. She doesn't even have a lock on her door.

      Wandering through the Shelves

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    4. Gypsy is also one of those musicals that somehow loses something in the transfer from stage to screen. What exactly, I'm not sure, but it does.

      Wanderer - I KNOW, RIGHT?!? I love all the detail in the design of Black Swan, especially Nina's bedroom.

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  5. Sorry for the double post, I hit publish, the screen went white and the comment came back doubled.

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    1. No problem - I took care of it! :)

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  6. Oh my God, the mother/daughter relationship in Black Swan made me SO uncomfortable. Gotta love Mildred Pierce too. I never saw the Joan Crawford film, just the HBO mini. But it was still fantastic.

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    1. It probably made me even more uncomfortable, because I was a dancer for many years, and I KNEW that mother (thankfully mine was nothing like that). What happens in the HBO miniseries of Mildred Pierce is truer to the book (they couldn't put what was in the book on film at the time because of the production code, so they invented the murder mystery framework to compensate for it), and is so much worse. Evan Rachel Wood is EVIL, but Ann Blyth in the original film is such a BITCH. She's completely awful, and for no good reason.

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  7. Great post! Of these 3 I've only seen Black Swan, but that is one seriously twisted relationship.

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    1. Thanks! And the scary thing is, I have seen relationships like that in real life between dancers and their mothers. I kid you not!

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  8. I'm so mad at myself for never listening to my mom and sitting down with her to watch Imitation of Life. It's like her favorite movie. Shame. I think I should put it on my queue. Black Swan was intense! I'm not sure if I'll ever watch it again. Barbara Hershey scares the shit out of me.

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    1. If you are ever in a mood to shed lots of big manly tears, definitely put on Imitation of Life. The last half hour is just lousy with cry-making scenes, but the finale... nothing beats it. It is incredible. Your mother has good taste!

      Yes, Barbara Hershey is scary. Both in Black Swan and in general.

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  9. Black Swan! We're on the same league. I always loved Barbara Hershey in her role in Black Swan, she's terrific as always!

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    1. She's so good that I almost want more of her in the film, even though any more would probably be not the best idea lol

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  10. I haven't seen any of your picks, but they all sound very interesting, especially Black Swan.

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    1. Black Swan is CRAZY GOOD. Imitation of Life is a tremendous soap opera weepie, and Mildred Pierce a great almost-noir with a killer Joan Crawford performance. You should definitely watch them!

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  11. Love the inclusion of Black Swan, Erica was so creepy!

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    1. Thanks! It's one of my favorites. Erica is only one of the many creepy things about Black Swan!

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    2. It's my all time favorite film :) Everyone was so good in it and the relationship between Erica and Nina really felt like they were real mother and daughter

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