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Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love to Hate)

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; book reviews are generally published on Monday, but today’s book was just too perfect to wait till after the holiday to which its honoring.  Richard Corliss presented an entire panel about his book, and the topic by extension, Mom in the Movies, but it was one I ended up missing out on.  Thankfully, the book remains and is worth reading to honor the movie moms who’ve shaped your life (or who you wished your mother was more like).

From Irene Dunne to Deborah Kerr, Julia Roberts to Faye Dunaway, movies moms give us encouragement and entertainment.  Richard Corliss takes readers on a journey through almost every type of movie mother you could wish for: those who love their children, those who hate their children, and those whose children hate them; mothers from sci-fi, crime, and horror genres; and mothers both classic and contemporary.  Each section is interconnected by the fact that these mothers are far from perfect, but they’re perfect in shaping one’s perception of all a mother can be.  I criticize classic films and the relegation of women to mother or bust, but Corliss’ perspective is one of simultaneous acknowledgement for the lack of unique female roles, and glorification of the various ways mothers shape the cinematic landscape whether they’re blood mothers or surrogate mothers (each with a chapter in the book).

Simon and Schuster partnered with TCM for Mom in the Movies and it’s a beautiful book worthy of shelf space.  There’s several full-color photographs to showcase the transitions in film techniques and mother’s appearance.  (It’s surprising to watch how women’s wardrobe, hairstyles, and makeup play against each other.)  There’s also short essays from TCM alumni like Illeana Douglas, Tippi Hedren, and Debbie Reynolds who discuss their own careers as mother’s in Hollywood or their appreciation of a particular movie mom.  I would have enjoyed a few more of these.  The essays run about two pages and are less than ten in number.  Considering this is a collaboration with TCM, I was hoping for a few more perspectives.  I was also surprised that no men contributed essays.  This is a movie about moms, sure, but I’d have appreciated a male star talking about a particular mom who shaped his treatment of women, or working with Hollywood moms on-set.

I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone attempting scholarly research.  It wears it’s “fun book” badge proudly.  If anything, it’ll give you some titles to add to your Netflix/Classicflix account that you can watch with your mother.  As you celebrate Mother’s Day today, it might be worth asking your mom who her favorite movie mother is.  You might be surprised, if you have the book handy, which category her particular choice belongs in!  Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

Interested in purchasing today’s book?  If you use the handy link below a small portion is donated to this site!  Thanks! 

Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love to Hate)


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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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