Go see "Mothers and Daughters."
As the credits rolled, several other moviegoers and I all clapped, and
afterwards we chatted for over 10 minutes about how touching and
powerful the film was. "Mothers and Daughters" (not to be confused with
the concurrently released "Mother's Day") is a series of short vignettes
and cameos by numerous A-listers that revolve around maternal/filial
relationships. The spectrum of relationships offers a marvelous view of
the reality and struggle of human lives. As Pope Francis has written,
"The Lord's presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all
their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes. Living in a family
makes it hard for us to feign or lie; we cannot hide behind a mask. If
that authenticity is inspired by love, then the Lord reigns there, with
his joy and his peace" (Amoris Laetitia, 315).
"Mothers and Daughters" is about real families and authentic
struggles. The title is vague and general because the relationships
contained in this film are so diverse that it would be hard to call the
film anything else. The events of these families include adoption,
unexpected pregnancy, deceit, disappointment, and disease, which all
strain the relationships between the women in the film in different
ways. Conversations via phone, Skype sessions, and texting illustrate
the physical and emotional distance between these women. As each mother
and daughter pair gets closer in their relationship, they begin to spend
more time in physical proximity.
Aside from subtle "show-don't-tell" dramatic devices, "Mothers and
Daughters" is worth our attention, because each character demonstrates
heroic virtue in time of trial. In other words, the film depicts moral
progress and conversion without the "excessive idealization" that Pope
Francis warns against. Regarding pastoral care for families, the Pope
suggests, "At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost
artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete
situations and practical possibilities of real families" (AL
36). In the film, the mothers are disappointed at the lack of some due
perfection in their daughters' lives, while the daughters feel something
lacking in the affection from their mothers. Despite the relational
friction, the characters struggle mightily to make mature decisions and
develop prudence. Good examples are something sorely lacking in American
movies. Film-makers seem to value cleverness, creativity, and
innovation over providing content of sustenance and substance. With rare
and welcome exception, big-budget films put more resources into the
execution and aesthetics rather than developing an idea that might offer
insight and encouragement for the human struggle. "Mothers and
Daughters" succeeds where high-budget films fail.
"Mothers and Daughters," however, does have its flaws, and critics
will point out some stilted scene of dialogue that could have used a few
more takes. Admittedly, Skyping with Susan Sarandon does not exactly
showcase her full dramatic range. There are perhaps a few conversations
that would have been fine additions to the DVD's "deleted scenes."
Critics who conclude, however, that "Mothers and Daughters" is a bad
movie are spending more time examining the packaging than the contents.
Despite its blemishes, "Mothers and Daughters" has heart and wisdom in
its portrayal of mother-daughter dynamics.
The central mother/daughter is Rigby Gray (Selma Blair), who learns
that she is pregnant after her boyfriend breaks up with her. Through
Rigby, "Mothers and Daughters" walks the tightrope of unplanned
pregnancy navigating between the Pollyanna idealism of family TV shows
like "Full House" and "7th Heaven" and the laugh-it-off "no big deal"
nonchalance of comedy-dramas like "Grandma" and "Obvious Child."
While "Mothers and Daughters" is no mawkish musical comedy, I applaud
the film because it does not settle for awkward laughs, but rather takes
the opportunity to find something deeper in anxious situations and
fraught relationships. The film's characters all exhibit virtue and
growth and are worthy examples because they find meaning in these
hardships and relationships.
I love super-hero sagas and science-fiction blockbusters as much as
the next Millennial, but what I would most like to see are good examples
of people handling concrete challenges with virtue. Our country has no
paucity of fallen heroes. From sports, to politics and religion, many of
our leaders have given bad examples for so long that we have come to
expect less from them. We need good examples of the struggle for virtue,
even if fictional to start new conversations and set higher standards
for ourselves and our art.