If you’re lucky enough to be spending time with your mother this Sunday and want nothing more than to watch some great films together, then Indiewire has you covered. Here are 10 mommy-centric indies sure to deepen your bond this Mother’s Day.
“All About My Mother,” dir. Pedro Almodovar (1999)
Maybe not a film you’d exactly call heartwarming, “All About My Mother” is still an important movie to watch this Mother’s Day. Director Pedro Almodovar had the following to say about the film, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. His dedication was, “To all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.” The film stars Manuela, a nurse who loses her son in a car accident. Following his death she goes to Barcelona to seek the boy’s father, a transvestite who goes by Lola. She encounters a strange group of characters, each screwed up, but caring in their ways. Yes, “All About My Mother” could be read as a deep film about AIDS, death and homosexuality, but more than anything else it’s a poignant piece about a loving mother and the relationships she creates.
“Frozen River,” dir. Courtney Hunt (2008)
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The children occupy less than a third of the screen time, yet Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning “Frozen River” manages to speak volumes about motherhood without really talking about it. Melissa Leo, in the performance that put her on the map and earned her an Oscar nom, is a single mother in survival mode. She’s cripplingly poor; she can barely afford Cheetos and Tang for family dinner and struggles to keep her children in school. Out of sheer desperation, she and another single mother agree to smuggle illegal immigrants across a precarious frozen river that serves as an unchecked border between the US and Canada. It’s fast cash, but at a cost. The mothers risk their lives, freedom, and sanity daily to assist in the operation. Yet much like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in “Winter’s Bone,” Leo’s character, Ray, isn’t self-pitying. She doesn’t have the time or energy for sentimentality. Her needs are boiled down to pure survival, and she operates with a calculated practicality and resourcefulness of a mother who will do literally anything for her children. Courtney Hunt, the film’s director, discussed the fact that the prevalent theme of the film is a mother’s love for her children. Hunt also stated that the most important moment in her life was the birth of her daughter; like Ray, this event changed her priorities. Everything else simply became less important.
“Grey Gardens,” dir. Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer (1975)
Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie are among two of the most memorable subjects ever profiled in the documentary form. They’re also made for each other. In the landmark 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens,” filmmakers David and Albert Maysles, Elen Hovde and Muffie Meyer track the lives of the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in the decaying 28-room East Hampton mansion the two women call home. Over the course of the documentary, Edith and Edie bicker and rant, but their bond and love for one another is undeniable. In the end, it’s what defines them.
“Juno,” dir. Jason Reitman (2007)
Reitman’s film put the spunky Ellen Page on the map. When 16-year-old Juno MacGuff learns that she’s pregnant, she decides to find a worthy couple (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) in her local penny saver and give her spawn up for adoption. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s quirky, witty script had Juno talking on a hamburger phone in quippy one-liners and trying to survive being the pregnant teen in high school. Though Juno is not the ideal mother, and Page’s best relationship with her dad (J.K. Simmons) appears better than the one she has with her step-mom (Allison Janney), it’s really Jennifer Garner’s emotional journey to becoming a mom that tugs at the heartstrings in this comedy.
“The Kids Are All Right,” dir. Lisa Cholodenko (2010)
Because sometimes two moms are better than one. This movie ate the words “American family comedy” and spit them out in the form of Mark Ruffalo’s motorcycle. It was about time for a “mainstream” film to explore gay parenthood in a manner that wasn’t satirized, and “The Kids Are All Right” managed to pack an interesting philosophical dilemma into a comedy to boot. Unsurprisingly, what’s striking about the film is that everyone can relate to it — gay, straight, two moms, five dads — as the characters grapple with very human issues like communication problems, trust, and loyalty. Hopefully some audiences walked away from the experience less afraid of the changing dynamics of the American family. Motherhood, after all, is universal.
“Little Miss Sunshine” dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris (2006)
Abigail Breslin stars as Olive Hoover, an average looking little girl with oversized glasses and mediocre dance ability. Though she’s the a-typical pageant girl, that doesn’t stop Olive from pursuing her dreams of competing in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Olive’s family, headed up by her mom played by the fabulous Toni Collette, sets out on a mission to get Olive to the event despite broken down cars, dead relatives or any other obstacles along the way. “Little Miss Sunshine” features an ensemble cast at its finest with Steve Carell as Olive’s Uncle Frank, a dry scholar of Marcel Proust; Paul Dano as Olive’s older brother who has taken a vow of silence; Greg Kinnear as Olive’s Dad whose self-help seminar business is on a downward spiral; and Alan Arkin as her groovy grandpa. The lengths this family will go to to make their youngest member happy is truly heartwarming.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” dir. Nia Vardalos (2002)
Does every mother dream of her little girl’s wedding day? For Toula (Nia Vardalos) the daughter of Greek immigrants whose family lives and breathes by their Mediterranean culture, finding love isn’t so easy, nor is carving out her own identity. Toula’s wedding becomes a farcical journey through giant dresses, zillions of cousins and insane amounts of food to which anyone with a large — and loud — family can relate. When Toula complains about how stubborn her father can be as the head of the household, her mom adds some good advice: “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants!”
“Real Women Have Curves,” dir. Patricia Cardoso (2002)
In Patricia Cardoso’s award-winning crowd pleaser “Real Women Have Curves,” America Ferrera (in her breakout role pre-“Nurse Betty”) plays Ana, a Mexican teenager with dreams of attending Columbia, despite the reservations of her conservative mother (the late and great Lupe Ontiveros). Juggling school with a job in her sister’s dress factory alongside her mother, Ana struggles to balance her mother’s traditional view of women with her own contemporary ideas. Ferrera and Ontiveros’ bond as mother-daughter is the heart and soul of the film. The two were awarded with a Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
“Secrets and Lies,” dir. Mike Leigh (1996)
Based on the synopsis alone, you might think this film about a working class British woman who is “found” by her 20-year-old biological daughter is the stuff of a Lifetime movie. But you’d be wrong. As directed by Mike Leigh and featuring two outstanding performances from the leads (Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste), “Secrets and Lies” explores our cultural and racial biases (we’re not giving that “secret” away!) in the context of a discovery of the true meaning of family. In other words, it’s perfect for a session of mother-daughter bonding in honor of Mother’s Day.
“Volver,” dir. Pedro Almodovar (2006)
Although probably not the first two films you think of in terms of Mother’s Day, both of the Pedro Almodovar movies on this list are quirky, bizarre, but warm stories about familial relationships that you should watch this May 11th. In the 2006 film “Volver,” an acclaimed comedy-drama starring Penelope Cruz in an Oscar-nominated turn, Cruz stars as Raimunda, a young mother still reeling from the death of her parents, who died in a fire three years prior. She’s in a relationship with an abusive man and at a dead end in her career. Her sister, the much softer Soledad, returns to the small Spanish village in which they grew up for the funeral of an aunt and encounters the ghost of their mother. Is there mother back to haunt them? Did she actually die in a fire? “Volver” is a odd tale about revenge, lust and retribution, but mostly it’s about the strange bond that will always exist between loved ones. It’s a movie that finds a way to make you smile.
[Editor’s Note: Paula Bernstein, Emily Buder, Casey Cipriani, Eric H. Eidelstein and Nigel M. Smith contributed to this article]