Tissues at the Ready

There are as many ways of celebrating Mother’s Day as there are styles of mothering. Some of us are distant from family at all times – not just during these unprecedented moments – and the stories that are told on film, both feature films and documentaries, have always explored the complicated relationship between mothers and their children. Kanopy (a streaming service WPL members can access for FREE) offered an incredible selection of choices for me to dig deep into a celebration of moms from the comfort of my cozy couch and it was cathartic, just what I needed, here are just a few:

If we are talking about movies that win the big five in terms of Oscars – awards for best actor, actress, film, screenplay and director – they are rare even though there are films nominated for all five almost every year. The Academy voters have rarely agreed that any one piece of art is their favourite. They were very close with one of the best films for true mother-child emotional cleansing as it had eleven nominations and won five (but just fell short as the fifth win was for best supporting actor). Terms of Endearment has an astounding cast and will cause you to pull out your tissue box and quite possibly look at your closet when you see their costumes. The performances by Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger, John Lithgow, Jeff Daniels and Danny DeVito are amazing – who cast that film? Step into that time machine and go back to see “Terms of Endearment” – classic, Oscar-winning mother-daughter laughter and pain on screen.

In 2019 Nick Offerman starred in his first film Hearts Beat Loud which has the absence of a mother making the film an extremely moving watch for this weekend. Offerman plays the part of a single dad, Frank, raising his daughter, Sam, while running a quirky record store in Red Hook, NY. It’s Sam’s final year of high school and they regularly play music together with Frank regularly encouraging her to join him in a ‘jam sesh’. She cringes but indulges him and it is played perfectly by both actors. It will take you instantly back to your teen years, no matter your current age in life.

When a song Frank and Sam write during a ‘jam sesh’ is so good Sam thinks it should be shared with the world on Spotify, they have big decisions to make about their future. Music plays an important role in their relationship, using it to connect and remember her mother and his wife, and celebrating their relationship. As the child of a single parent, Sam has been forced into a grown up role quickly and has her future mapped but her father is making this adjustment to future separation much more slowly. Their emotional turmoil is bittersweet to watch and it is backed by one the most enjoyable soundtracks. The movie really didn’t get as much attention as it should have considering the performances by the two main characters, the chance to feel like you have spent an hour or two in Red Hook, and experience the feeling of what family life is like when a mother is not present. I guess, tissues again?

Okay, come to think of it, the third film I picked on Kanopy during my maternal-themed filmfest was one that required a near-constant supply of tissues also. I thought I could outsmart myself with this pick and chose a documentary. My logic was that facts wouldn’t make me feel emotional? It’s called Mom and Me: tough guys and the women who raised them and was a product of a group of talented Irish film makers. Their nugget of an idea is that Oklahoma had been named the ‘manliest’ state and a local radio show was doing a call-in on this topic. It works.

The host, Joe Cristiano, encourages men of all ages to call in and talk about their mothers. The conversations usually begin from a couch or kitchen, maybe a workplace, and then the next couple of scenes are a follow up with the caller sitting down with their Mom as they discuss their relationship. It is something to see! A personal favourite for me was Bronco, of Checotah, Oklahoma, shopping for hats with his mother and then heading out on a picnic to see how it looks. We see family members discussing childhood memories, rate the success of their marriages and even watch one conversation about personal safety as a son encourages his mother to take care to remember to fire her gun more often. It’s an opportunity to see the love of mothers expressed in so many different ways and I enjoyed hearing the radio host encourage his ‘callers’ to share how they felt about this special bond. When the credits rolled I was sorry to leave my new Oklahoma friends and really loved getting to meet their mothers. It’s a treat of a film. Maybe just bring the whole box of tissues to your couch.

Celebrating Mother’s Day this year is going to be unusual for many families with current circumstances sometimes prevent connecting with the important people in your life. Consider relaxing with one of Kanopy’s incredible films – the possibilities are endless and they all don’t require you to bring a box of tissues with you as you watch.

— Penny M.