Movies are a great uniter, or can be, and they're a favorite way to kill time during a manufactured holiday. But Mother's Day can be a landmine, cinematically-speaking; there are so, so many ways a film choice can turn horrifically awkward. Some of these movies are excellent; just seek them out on another day — almost any other day but Mother's Day.
‘Spanking the Monkey’ (1994)
Let’s get the most obvious out of the way first: Do not watch anything with your mom about mother-child incest. In fact, you probably want to avoid incest altogether. Among the most bone-chilling is the feature debut of David O. Russell. Today the filmmaker is known as the wildly successful maker of lovable movies about lovable losers, like “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” But he got his start with this sharp, slow-burn dramedy about a cranky son (Jeremy Davies) spending a boring summer tending to his cranky mom (Alberta Watson), which soon leads to some, shall we say, weird feelings. That it’s also called “Spanking the Monkey” should fire off mental alarms as well. (See also: “Savage Grace,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s “La Luna” and, of course, “Back to the Future,” in which a time-traveling son has to swat away the moves of his young, hot mother.)
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)
This is also a no-brainer, but anything that has sex is no fun to watch with someone(s) who created you. Last year’s Martin Scorsese masterpiece is designed to be a bacchanalia, with three solid, relentless hours of cartoonishly bad behavior. It doesn't let up, and it starts right away: The second scene is Leonardo DiCaprio’s super-hedonist/Wall Street monster blowing crack smoke into a hooker’s nether regions. About the only thing worse you could expose her to is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom,” which is relentless and dirty in an entirely different way.
‘All About My Mother’ (1999)
Pedro Almodovar’s female-centric melodrama was a watershed moment for the Spanish filmmaker. But you probably don’t want to sit down with your own mother to watch a film that begins with a son being killed, then hangs with his mom (a mesmerizing Cecilia Roth) as she works through her grief. (Along somewhat similar lines, avoid the also terrific "Stella Dallas" and Douglas Sirk's 1959 version of "Imitation of Life," both of which feature mothers who think their daughters will be better off without them.)
‘The Good Son’ (1993)
Macaulay Culkin first tried to tarnish his squeaky clean, mugging image — at the autumnal age of 13 — with this lurid thriller, in which he does a variation on the psycho kid from 1956’s “The Bad Seed.” [MAJOR SPOILER, TURN BACK NOW] Much, much more troubling is that the film ends with his mom forced to choose between saving him and her decent nephew (Elijah Wood), and choosing the latter, allowing her son to fall to a rocky demise.
‘Flowers in the Attic’ (1987)
The first adaptation of V.C. Andrews’ trash novel eventually reveals itself to have if not the worst screen mother, then one certainly down there. In fact, it has TWO terrible mothers. After the death of her husband, a mom (Victoria Tennant) returns to the Gothic manse of her scary-strict parents, notably Louise Fletcher, channeling Nurse Ratched for material that's definitely not "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Tennant's four children (led by Kristy Swanson) are housed in the attic, from which they can’t escape. [ANOTHER MAJOR SPOILER] As it turns out, mom has agreed to her mom’s demand that, as penance for her once-loose lifestyle, her entire past will be literally destroyed, meaning the kids are just being starved to death. Your mom is possibly not this evil, and could use the film to feel better about herself. But there are other days and ways to do this.
'Two for the Road' (1967)
It's got Audrey Hepburn, it's got a romantic Henry Mancini score, it's directed by "Singin' in the Rain"'s Stanley Donen. It's a genuine masterpiece and one of the greatest films of the '60s. However, this isn't just a comedic romance. It's a dark, brutally honest, often painful look at a marriage, between Hepburn and Albert Finney, crumbling — and yet persisting — over the years, jumping around on a timeline from first blush (when Finney really wanted Jacqueline Bisset but settled for Hepburn) to exhausted fights. No matter your parents' marital status, one thing you never want to do is sit with one of them and watching a film that acknowledges that marriage can be a pain.
‘Mom’s Night Out’ (2014)
Released Mother’s Day weekend, this wild (or PG-rated wild) ride is not only not very good, but it pretends to honor moms while not very subtly suggesting that their place is in the home, and that any time they try for something more that disaster is bound to happen. Your mom is much better than that and deserves better than this night out.
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