Since the dawn of movies, Hollywood has constantly drawn upon on the very idea of the mother as a selfless benefactor of her family, whose only real motive to exist within the film’s narrative is to procure and take care of them whilst acting as a passive voice of concern and suffering.
This type of mother has its originis on the (very) dated idea in which is tought that all women, somehow, are born with their maternal instinct embedded in their mind, like some sort of “gift” given by the joys of womanhood. A gift that, for a long time, will determine the mother’s right place to be on the movies: inside her house, taking care of the children.
With this in mind, it’s easy to think that films by now will have eventually move past this old trope in order to create and depict better and more accurate representations of mothers in cinema. Surprisingly, it has! At least for the last few years. Sure, we still have a handful of self-denying matriarchs lurking over some movies, but we also got new types of mothers to freshen things up a bit.
Films like Netflix’s Tallulah introduces us to three different type of mothers: Tallulah, the mother for decision, Carolyn, the mother that does not want to be one, but still loves her daughter and Margo, the estranged mother. Each one of these women comes from different backgrounds and ways of understanding motherhood.
Ellen Page is Tallulah, a woman that decides to steal Carolyn’s baby after she sees her passing out drunk on her hotel bedroom. Tallulah’s decision is in no way a well-thought idea, after all, she only wants to have a family, to take care of someone else, but mostly, to be taken care of by someone, like his ex-boyfriend’s mom, Margo.
Motherhood is not the only thing these three women have in common, they also are harshly judged by others, and by each other, thanks to society’s constrained schemes of who should or shouldn’t fall into the eternal selfless mom paradigm and what does a mother has o hasn’t have to do to in order to feel like a real mom.
Carolyn’s character could easily come across as a bad mom, but the movie is the first to not judge her, instead it portrays her in such a deep way like a flawed and broken person that it’s impossible not to empathize with her. Same thing could apply to Talullah’s actions, any other movie could happily chime in with a judgmental opinion of her irresponsability. Instead, she’s portrayed like a woman who is afraid, just as Carolyn and Margo, and is only trying to do her best with what she has and with what she knows.
Each and one of them has a certain way to understand what is like to be a mother. For Carolyn is just another way to draw some attention from her husband, another path to save her marriage, Margo’s undesrtanding of motherhood comes across as an arrangement within two people that care a lot about each other, and for Tallulah is a mean to escape from her reality and, of course, another way to feel loved.
There’s simply not just one way to be or to act as a mother. Mothers can be estranged from their family, a mother doesn’t need to be related by blood with their children, mothers are not the epitome of perfection and well-behavior and mothers are not certainly obliged to love unconditionally their families. Mothers are just human beings.
As compelling as this narrative is to our reality and level of understanding of gender roles in our society, there still exists some movies that totally misses the point on their attempt to contribute to the debate. Movies like Bad Moms.
This movie appeals (in a more superficial approach) to the very same idea: different women comprehending the meaning and purpose of motherhood, whilst being harshly judged by themselves, the ones arround them and even by the movie itself. Unlike Tallulah, Bad Moms does judge (and even punish) her moms when they’re tired of trying to fit right into the mold of the selfless mom.
The film starts off with an interesting premise: Amy, Kiki and Carla are three women who interpret motherhood, to some extent, like a self-imposed responsability, but not a burden. It takes no time before they figure out a new way of understanding their mom-figure paradigm together, and, when that happens, the narrative rapidly shifts them back to become just another trope of devoted moms, turning their backs against everything the film intend to do in the first place: an intent to re-interpret motherhood.
It’s always easy to keep reproducing the stereotypes we’re already accustomed with, but, in order to live in a society which doesn’t put judgement before respect we have to start modifyng our way to understand and re-define the concepts we don’t agree on. If the movies are already trying to change it, why don’t we?