Director Jason Reitman’s Tully—released in 2018 just a week before Mother’s Day—provided a revelatory take on what it means to be a mom.
“What feels borderline revolutionary about the movie is the way it looks at motherhood through the mother, not her relationship with her kids,” writes the A.V. Club.
To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, we’re looking back on some of our favorite films that explore and embrace the unbelievable challenges and triumphs mothers face every day.
In 2015, screenwriter Diablo Cody was inspired to write Tully after giving birth to her third child and needing to take on a night nurse. "I had never seen a film about postpartum depression,” Cody explains in the production notes. Working with director Jason Reitman, Cody created a whole new story about motherhood, one that was equally funny, frightening, and fantastical. In the film, Marlo (Charlize Theron), a sleep-deprived mother struggling with a new infant in addition to her two rambunctious children, agrees to hire a night nurse named Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Through this mysterious nurse, Marlo renegotiates both what it means to be a mother and who she was before giving birth. Theron tells Marie Claire, “We don’t necessarily always get the entire truth told about what it takes to be a mother.” Pushing to tell a different story, “The film (and the actress) go places we never see in cinematic portrayals of motherhood,” writes The Wrap.
A Thousand and One
A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival for its devastating portrayal of a mother raising her son in New York City in the 1990s and 2000s. After Inez (Teyana Taylor) is released from prison, she kidnaps her son Terry from foster care, taking him to Harlem to raise him. Taylor tapped her own experience as a mother to make her character both real and unforgettable. “I think her being a mother in real life really shines through in her portrayal,” Rockwell tells Cinema Daily. Never shying away from the complex reality of being a Black mother in America, Taylor’s portrayal of motherhood is inspiring and eye opening. The Washington Post writes, “This is a tough, beautiful, honest and bracingly hopeful movie about mutual care and unconditional love, with a transformative and indelible performance at its core.”
Let Him Go
In Let Him Go, filmmaker Thomas Bezucha recasts the traditional American Western by making mothers the central characters. In the early 1960s, retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane), still mourning the death of their only son, have their tragedy compounded when their daughter-in-law and her new husband take their grandson to live in North Dakota. To make matters worse, his new family, ruled by its iron matriarch (Lesley Manville), has no interest in including the boy’s grandparents in his upbringing. So the two mothers face each other down for the boy’s future. The New Yorker summed up the drama’s pull by writing, “The film has two mothers of steel, squaring up to each other, and two formidable actresses, of radically different styles, face to face.”
The Kids Are All Right
In Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a couple raising two kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) whose lives are turned upside down when they meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), their sperm-donor dad. Cholodenko reframes the very concept of family with charm, comedy, and intelligence. The critically acclaimed film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. While many raved about its subtle representation of same-sex marriage and alternative families, NPR writes, “If The Kids Are All Right can be said to have a gay sensibility at all, it lies in the film's rousing defense of one of the most maligned figures in American cinema—the strong mother.”
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