Sure, Emma Stone is terrific in “Easy A,” but the real treat is the pair of actors playing her parents in the new teen comedy. In general my favorite parts of the movie involve the adult characters, but I was particularly smitten by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the appropriately named Rosemary and Dill (because they add flavor to the film). They’re funny, caring, open (sometimes a little too much) and overall very respectful and loving figures.
They’re very easily the best parental characters that I’ve ever seen in this kind of movie. That’s not too hard since most teen movies either don’t show the parents or they feature terribly cruel or clueless moms and dads. But I’ll add that I haven’t wanted a set of characters to be my own parents this much since my introduction to Nick and Nora of the “Thin Man” films. And Rosemary and Dill are a bit less intoxicated, which is good.
It was a struggle, but I found 10 more great parents, both in terms of being well-written and ultimately good guardians and role models to their children. Some of these are easy pairings of moms and dads, though there are two singles among the bunch. Check out the list after the jump and remind me of any I’ve missed.
Betsy and Chip Heron (Ana Gasteyer and Neil Flynn) in “Mean Girls”
I’m starting with these two because they almost seem a sort of model for Rosemary and Dill, much like a lot of other moments from “Mean Girls” feel recycled in “Easy A.” They don’t get nearly as much screen time, though, and in the context of the movie they could very well be viewed as bad parents. They’re an example of when guardians become too trusting of their kids. Also, there is the matter of their insufficiently preparing daughter Cady (Lindsay Lohan) for a real school and American social practices when they return to the U.S. after fully raising the girl in East Africa. However, some of the problem, and their lack of awareness of the problem, stems from their own ignorance of modern teen life. But perhaps they should have just kept on homeschooling her. They probably meant well by letting her finally experience this world, and in the end she may well be better off for it, so they get a pass.
Reverend Shaw and Vi Moore (John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest) in “Footloose” (original)
I wouldn’t have thought to include this couple since Lithgow’s Rev. Moore is initially the villain of the film, forbidding the kids of Beaumont to dance and listen to rock music. He’s an extreme version of the strict father character in that he’s overprotecting the whole town. But partly thanks to his choice of wife — played by the always wonderful Wiest — he eventually eases up and permits his daughter (Lori Singer) and the rest of the teens have a real prom with contemporary music. I’m curious to see if Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell exhibit as genuine a struggle with the balance of religious and humanistic values in the upcoming “Footloose” remake. Also worth a mention are the slightly less overbearing parents (well, mostly just the military dad) of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” played by Ed Lauter and Margaret Howell.
Lucille LaRusso (Randee Heller) in “The Karate Kid” (original)
Her son (Ralph Macchio) doesn’t really appreciate her, nor does he see the benefit of their moving from Newark to Los Angeles. He’s kind of a brat, actually. She lets him go to a party instead of helping her unpack, she drives him around on his date and puts up with both condescending looks from Elizabeth Shue’s parents and ridicule by the local youth, and she’s always there for Daniel, worrying about him and wanting to care for his wounds, despite working her ass off as a single mom. So she can’t teach him karate like the handyman can. But you can tell she really loves and wants the best for her boy. Heller gets bonus points for recently showing up on “Mad Men” as the favorite comic relief-providing secretary Miss Blankenship.
Jim Court (John Mahoney) in “Say Anything…”
Few parents in teen movies get their own subplot the way Mahoney’s single dad does in Cameron Crowe’s classic (which is paid homage a few times in “Easy A”). Under investigation by the IRS for shady tax dealings, Court ultimately goes to jail mainly because he was trying to make a better life for his daughter (Ione Skye). Aside from the criminal stuff, though, he’s also the kind of father who trusts and can be trusted, is easy to talk to for that reason, and is always thinking about the best interests of his kid over his own. He is wrong to discourage her in dating choices. I don’t know who he thinks could be better than Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack). Another single dad worthy of mention is Molly Ringwald’s unemployed father (Harry Dean Stanton) in “Pretty in Pink.”
Rose and Eddie Darko (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne) in “Donnie Darko”
Who wouldn’t want President Roslin as their mom? Here, just prior to “Battlestar Galactica,” McDonnell is similarly diplomatic, only as a parent rather than a galactic leader. As the mother of Donnie, Sam and Elizabeth (Jake Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase and Maggie Gyllenhaal), she displays a good mix of authority and respect and care as a parent. Osborne’s dad is good, too, if sometimes slightly more clueless. Who doesn’t like his reactions to dinner table fights and honest feelings about unreasonable teachers like Miss Farmer? But it’s his “bitchin'” (his word) wife who appears the stronger and more attentive figure. I’m sure she drags him to those PTA meetings.
Molly and Arthur Weasley (Julie Walters and Mark Williams) in the “Harry Potter” franchise
Just pretend the “Harry Potter” movies aren’t so fantastical and based in a good vs. evil narrative. Otherwise they’re just teen movies that happen to take place in a private school for wizards. And in that case they can’t be excluded from this list, because the parents of Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Percy, Charlie and Bill Weasley are another set I’d be happy to have as my own. And you know they’d take me in regardless of my being a muggle. It’s a testament to how good and beloved this couple is that J.K. Rowling originally meant to kill off at least Arthur but just couldn’t do it, even with words. As far as super-powered parents are to be included here, I also want to spotlight Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston as the superhero couple in the underrated “Sky High.”
Thanks goes out to Monika Bartyzel (of Cinematical) for her helpful suggestions. I came very close to also including Eric Stoltz’s parents (John Ashton and Jane Elliot) from “Some Kind of Wonderful” because of her, despite having never seen it. And she made me realize why “Footloose” rightly deserved to be here.