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Happy Mother’s Day! The Films We Would and Would Never Watch With Our Mothers

Happy Mother's Day! The Films We Would and Would Never Watch With Our Mothers

This weekend brings us the mother of all holidays, and what better way to spend some quality time with your mom than sitting down together for a movie? With that in mind, the Indiewire team decided to offer up both our ideal scenarios for mother-child cinematic sitdowns, and the opposite. Presenting the movies we’d most enjoy watching with our mothers, and the films we’d never subject that situation to:

Aaron Bogert…

Would Watch With His Mother: “Rosemary’s Baby”
Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror film may seem like an odd choice to want to view with your mom on her most special of days.  After all, the plot of the film involves Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) being unwittingly impregnated with the Antichrist as a result of her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), making a literal deal with the devil.  Not exactly feel good stuff.  Think about it, though, Rosemary is actually one of the most protective mothers you’re bound to find in all of cinema.  Once she realizes that her neighbors, played by Sidney Blackmer & Ruth Gordon (in an Oscar winning role), are part of a Satan-worshiping coven that have sinister plans for her unborn child, Rosemary goes on a mad sprint around Manhattan to evade them.  Oh by way, she does while she’s nine months pregnant and looks fit to burst.  Anyone who can successfully evade (well, Rosemary is caught eventually) a group of Satanists by running around Midtown when they’re nine months pregnant clearly cares about their kid.  Don’t forget the clincher, either (spoiler alert ahead for a 40 year old movie): when Rosemary finally gives birth to what she now knows is the spawn of Satan, she doesn’t kill it!!!  Even when she’s standing over it a huge butcher knife!!!  That right there is mother of the year material.  Therefore, perfect film to watch with what is surely your own super-loving and overprotective mother.  

Would Never Watch With His Mother: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
My first thought after seeing Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” was “I never want to watch this movie with my mother.”  I then saw the film a second time with my sister who immediately turned to me when it was over and basically reiterated my initial thoughts about viewing the film with our mom.  The film focuses on the mother (Tilda Swinton) of the titular Kevin in the aftermath of a massacre which he commits at his high school.  Difficult questions are raised about whether some children are, to use a well worn phrase, just born as “bad seeds.”  Perhaps even more disturbingly, and this is the reason that made me not want to see it with my own mom, the question is raised of what happens when a mother doesn’t necessarily unconditionally love their child as much as society has made it seem they should.  How culpable are they in how their children turn out in the long run, especially when they turn out like Kevin?  No definitive answer is provided by the film in this disturbing example of whether nature vs. nurture determines what we become; it lets you have that debate internally.  All I know is that it’s not a debate I want to have when sitting next to my mother.   

Austin Dale…

Would Watch With His Mother: “Secrets & Lies”
When I think of great movies about mothers, the first that always comes to mind is a cherished favorite, Mike Leigh’s modern classic “Secrets and Lies.” The ensemble drama centers around Cynthia, who has been a mother since her own mother’s death left her in charge of her brother as a teenager. Then, the daughter she gave up for adoption as a teenager is seeking her out, leading to a cathartic, beautifully orchestrated climax. I don’t know if my mother’s ever seen it but I know she’d dig it. First of all, Mike Leigh loves mothers, and he creates better mother-child relationships than, arguably, any filmmaker alive. And anyway, if there’s one thing I know about mothers, it’s that they love tearjerkers, and this one is in the pantheon.

Would Never Watch With His Mother: “Myra Breckenridge”
I had two tickets to see “Myra Breckenridge” at Lincoln Center’s Raquel Welsh retrospective a few months ago. Unfortunately, after I had bought the tickets, my mother announced that she’d be coming to the city for the weekend. I had never seen the movie, and I had heard it was risqué, but I figured that my mother has a good sense of humor, she’d enjoy herself. So I brought her along. Oh, man. Big mistake. Luckily, on the way out of Walter Reade Theater, my mother only had one thing to say: “I didn’t get why all those young men were all in love with Mae West. That didn’t make any sense at all.” It was awkward enough to sit through the Old Glory strap-on rape scene with my mother without having to discuss it afterwards.

Jay A. Fernandez…

Would Watch With His Mother: “Psycho” (Spoiler Alert!)
The truth is, I’ll indulge any excuse to re-watch Hitchcock’s diabolical classic. But I find the idea of sitting through it with my mother perversely appealing — a sensation Hitchcock would encourage, I feel sure. This demented creeper is full of deviously clever lines, moments and motivations, but the bottom line for me is that the film is about a mother who has fucked up her son so badly that he’s now a killer several miles past insane. That outcome has always felt both true and satisfying to me — in a hypothetical way, of course. The abusive emotional tyrant is so controlling she’s even manipulating him when she’s, uh, no longer around! Those of us who fight off mom’s voice as it rattles around our heads even decades past childhood can appreciate how poor Norman has gone one giant step further and externalized the nag in both voice and body to such an emasculated extent that it literally makes sexual intimacy with a woman impossible. Thanks, Ma! Sitting there watching it with ol’ Mom, who once casually questioned whether my high school girlfriend wasn’t too big to be a cheerleader, I could quietly comfort myself knowing that even with my panoply of neuroses, at least I’m not as bad as Norman Bates. And the great punch line would be that she’d watch it without even a glimmer of any of this subtext or understanding. Oh, wait — maybe that joke’s on me.
Would Never Watch With His Mother: “Spanking the Monkey”
David O. Russell’s debut announced him as a filmmaker unafraid of digging deep into dysfunctional family dynamics and letting them play out uncomfortably on screen. And that’s why I say: No thanks. I once had to sit through “Unfaithful” with my mother and my aunt, and watching Diane Lane have stand-up sex and lay-down sex and oral sex and orgasms left and right, while certainly appealing on its own terms, became excruciating when my sixty-something lady relatives provided their own whisper-soundtrack about how it all “really got female desire.” Cue six-year bout of impotence. Anyway, at least those characters were consenting (non-related!) adults. So sitting with mom, sweating through Russell’s black comedy about a freshman in college forced to care for his bed-ridden mother over a hot summer of forced intimacy and aborted masturbation attempts, is one of the very last things I’d ever want to do. Honestly? It could be enough to make me dress in drag and slaughter a bunch of drifters.

Devin Lee Fuller…

Would Watch With His Mother:  “The Last Days of Disco”
When I was a kid, my mother bought the soundtrack to Whit Stillman’s 1998 film about young Upper East Siders and played it non-stop. No car trip would be complete without it (although it would later by replaced by Sarah McLachlan’s “Mirrorball”). She hadn’t even seen the movie (Stillman wasn’t too big in southeast Michigan); she just dug the disco music. So it’s about time she actually watched the thing. Aside from the sentimental value it presents for Baby Boomers, the film is relatable to everyone who has ever been young and struggled to find themselves (so basically everyone). And the soundtrack really will be stuck in your head for days.

Would Never Watch With His Mother: “Antichrist”
Aside from the graphic sexual violence that is difficult to watch even without sitting next to the woman who gave birth to you, “Antichrist” is a film that’s just hard on mothers in general. After her son falls to his death out of a window while she’s having sex, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character takes out her guilt on herself and her husband in increasingly horrifying ways. Lars von Trier’s film is likely to cause traumatizing flashbacks for any mother who wasn’t watching closely enough when her child touched a hot stove or knocked his head against the wall. Spare her the mental anguish.

Steve Greene…

Would Watch With His Mother: “The Sound of Music”
I consulted my mom for her pick and her near-immediate response was “The Sound of Music.” There’s a reason that it resonates as a multi-generational family film: the story and songs have become as familiar as Julie Andrews’ appeal. (Anyone else recognize “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” after only a few notes when it was the end credits song on “Mad Men” a few weeks ago?) Whether it’s you or your mother that swoons over the stoic Captain von Trapp or it’s you or your mother who jumps around the living room yodeling all of “The Lonely Goatherd” or it’s you or your mother who sits, feeding off the enjoyment of everyone else in the room, “The Sound of Music” offers a movie-watching experience with just the right amount of sugariness. Granted, nostalgia probably plays in a factor in how someone approaches this or any movie musical from the 1960s (“West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof” are prime candidates for this list, too). But there’s something so recognizably cinematic about that shot of Maria on the hills that even the most film-averse mom would appreciate.

Would Never Watch With His Mother:  “The Wicker Man”
The 1973 version of Anthony Shaffer’s tale of a police officer sent to a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl may sound to the uninitiated like an episode of Scottish “Law and Order: SVU” or any harmless procedural that makes for Friday night fare. But what makes “The Wicker Man” a movie likely to make your mom’s skin crawl isn’t just the climactic scene. It’s the way that this isolated town’s customs vary in incremental ways from a “normal,” recognizable one. Men in the village of varying ages lusting after the local barmaid? Potentially understandable. The entire community listening intently as a young lad takes said barmaid upstairs and…well? Not so much. When that sequence eventually gives way to one of the more unsettling sing-alongs in film history (a scene that will destroy any happy memories involving a maypole), the meticulous storytelling sets its trap. As the true nature of the town becomes readily apparent, it’s a sobering reminder that even the plainest of characters are capable of truly disturbing thoughts and actions. That’s not the realization you want to have when a parent is in the same room.

Peter Knegt…

Would Watch With His Mother: “Beautiful Thing”
The best of the bunch of great coming out dramas from the mid-1990s, “Beautiful Thing” is a tender, adorable ode to mothers and their gay sons.  Set  in South East London, it offers the story of Jamie (Glen Berry), a teenager struggling with his sexuality while he lives with his pre-occupied single mother Sandra (Linda Henry).  I probably watched the film twenty times as a closeted teenager, hoping one day that its intensely affecting final scene would have a version in my own life. In the scene, Jamie and his boyfriend slow dance outside Jamie’s home while Sandra defiantly dances beside them with a female friend in solidarity — as the entire neighbourhood watches.  For any gay man who has achieved that feeling of unity with their mother (there was no dancing in the street for me personally, but it worked out just the same), it’s an impossible scene not to tear up to. Especially if mom is nearby.

Would Never Watch With His Mother:  “Savage Grace”
Even the closest gay son-awesome mother relationships have their cinematic boundaries, and if there’s any film that crosses it, it’s Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace.” Based on the true story of likely the most dysfunctional mother-son relationship ever, it depicts socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland (Julianne Moore) and her only son Antony (Eddie Redmayne).  The film offers nonstop, extremely unpleasant scenarios:  Barbara manipulates and controls Antony; Antony sleeps with Barbara’s boyfriend; Antony and Barbara have an incestuous threesome with said boyfriend (!); Antony kills Barbara (!!). In the end, it will surely make any mother or son feel good about their own relationship, but at a considerable cost.

Sophia Savage…

Would Watch With Her Mother: “Poetry”
For all its heartbreaking sadness — it begins with the discovery of a dead girl whose been raped —  I’d love to watch Chang-dong Lee’s gut-wrenching “Poetry” and then have a good cry with my mother. It doesn’t exactly exhort healthy mother-daughter, grandmother-grandson or male-female or young-old relationships, but it wastes no time on bullshit happy endings to which neither my mother or I subscribe–instead it looks pain in the face and weaves an exquisite story.

Would Never Watch With Her Mother: “The Dreamers”
Just the idea of having to sit through one of my favorite films with my mother makes me uncomfortable. Bernardo Bertolucci’s deliciously erotic “The Dreamers,” with Eva Green in all her naked glory in a bathtub with Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel (and so on), is a great time at the movies for almost anyone (over the age of 17). But, while it may be puritanical of me, I’ll take Rape and Murder over Sex and Incest for a mother-daughter screening any day.

Nigel M. Smith…

Would Watch With His Mother: “The First Wives Club”
There’s a reason this all-star comedy was a surprise hit back when it came out in 1996. Unless your mother’s a total grouch, chances are she’s a fan of one (or all three) of the film’s three headlining dames — Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler. And if she’s not, she (nor you!) can’t go wrong with the supporting ensemble (Sarah Jessica Parker, Maggie Smith, Stockard Channing and Marcia Gay Harden), all of who get a chance to shoot a wisecrack or two. Divorcees will especially warm to this comedy. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Olivia Goldsmith, “The First Wives Club” centers on three college friends who reunite following the death of one of their old buds, and proceed to get even with their husbands who all leave them for younger and dafter women.

Would Never Watch With His Mother: “Monster’s Ball”
Halle Berry won her Oscar for playing a bereaved mother in “Monster’s Ball,” but that by no means this is suitable watching material for Mother’s Day. First off, the film kicks off on a sour note with Berry saying her final goodbyes to her hubby (an affecting Sean Combs) moments before his execution. And Berry doesn’t play the kindest of mothers — constantly nagging on her obese son’s eating habits in a borderline abusive manner. But what really makes this a film you need to avoid watching at all costs with with your mother, is the infamous and extremely explicit sex scene in which Berry pleads to Billy Bob Thornton (playing a prison guard who assisted in executing Berry’s man) , “Make me feel good.” That he does.

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