Noteworthy Single Mom Character #4

“You’re saying you’re not a control freak? “

“No, I’m a single, working mother.” – Michelle Pfieffer, One Fine Day.

One Fine Day came out in 1996, right about the same time when George Clooney was first voted “Sexiest Man Alive” by People Magazine. Pair that up with ex-Catwoman Michelle Pfieffer as a successful NYC single mom, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the most enjoyable romantic comedies a single parent could ask for.

Its been over a decade since I’ve watched this film, and though its already humorously dated, I found new appreciation for this single parent romance. There’s the 90’s jokes, the divorce jokes, the giant cell phones, the Calista Flockhart miniskirts, the embarrassingly few minority roles, lesbian references that were still considered inappropriate (even in 1996!). Lets not forget this movie was made during the reign of ER tv, and George Clooney was the husky-voiced, hooded-eye king of the small screen.

One Fine Daystands out in its time as true single mom fantasy. Yeah, she’s an overworked, multi-tasking, unappreciated mom with a slacker co-parent, but she’s also got her proverbial shit together. She’s an architect. She can afford to live in Manhattan on one salary while supporting her son. She’s on the road to a promotion, and her kid goes to the uber-cool Montessori school.

All too many single moms know what the first half of that life is like. But how many of us have achieved financial security and professional success the way Michelle Pfieffer has in this story? How many of us have lived with our parents while attempting to straighten out our lives? For those single moms who relate to Michelle Pfiffer’s economic situation in One Fine Day, I applaud you. Its still a fantasy for me.

So many Single Parent movies are about financial stress (Erin Brockovich, North Country) that focusing on the other elements of single parenting are overshadowed. One Fine Day has the freedom to revolve its story around every minute detail of parenting alone in a 24-hour period. This is the stuff we deal with every single day, but is hardly ever acknowledged.

Michelle Pfieffer is the classic “I can do it myself” character. She tells George Clooney that she’s got so many balls in the air, if she let someone try to catch one, they would all come crashing down. What single mom doesn’t get that? Michelle’s conflict is the very same one that single parents all have to learn: Sometimes its ok to ask for help.

George Clooney also plays a cliche: the charming, well-meaning, but clueless Single Dad who has his daughter every other weekend.  He  flirts with life without taking responsibility, but loves deeply and thus immediately admires Michelle Pfieffer’s kick-ass, take-charge, single mom attitude.

Thus begins their witty, chemistry-driven, frustrated-yet-so-hot-for-each other dialogue:

“Your Peter Pan complex is so 90s.”

 “What Peter Pan complex? “

“The one you’re so proud of. “

“Do you have any friends? “

 “I don’t have time for friends.” 

 “That’s because of your Captain Hook complex.”

I remember my mom laughing hysterically during this scene in 1996. Being 14, I didn’t really get it. I just though George Clooney was dreamy.  Now I laugh just as hard, and I still think George Clooney is just as dreamy.

I mean come on! He’s trying to make out with her while she’s in her sweat pants, tomato sauce dripping down her shirt. He picks her up and carries her across a giant puddle while their kids splash around happily in the park. He looks her dead in the eyes and says “I wouldn’t have mentioned kissing you if I didn’t want to.”

Swoon.

Michelle Pfieffer literally runs around half of Manhattan all day long in killer heels. She refuses to be pressured into choosing her job over her child. She resists George Clooney’s charms for almost the entire movie (she deserves a medal for this one). In the end, instead of the hot hook-up, or wedding bells that Romantic Comedies always include, both single parents fall asleep sitting on the couch together while their kids watch The Wizard of Oz in the background.

One Fine Dayis decidedly old fashioned in its 90’s “progressive” romance, and true to single parent life, sometimes you’re just too tired at the end of the day to even think about sex.

More Single Mom movie reviews:

Marissa Tomei in In the Bedroom

Frances McDormand in Almost Famous

Sandra Oh in Under the Tuscan Sun

Lilo & Stich

SherryBaby

Sherrybaby

Ok, here goes.

When I first saw Sherrybaby, I was still “trying to make it work” with Rooferman, even though I had moved out and was living with my mother. He adamantly refused to be within 10 miles of the angry feminist aura of her house, so LB and I saw very little of him until he finally put our engagement through the guillitene and moved in with Blondie.

Here is where I reveal something very embarrassing about myself:

I tried to get Rooferman to watch Sherrybaby, because when we couldn’t communicate, I would attempt to present the issue through a movie with a similar message. Yeah, I was delusional. But, being a Pisces I was convinced that the magic of movies could soften the pain we both were feeling, and get through the hard times.

When we had no propane to heat the house, we would huddle together under blankets and watch Cinderella Man, and for a little while, it would make everything ok. Rooferman would turn to me and say “I love you” and I my hope would be restored. If the Braddocks could make it through the Great Depression, then surely we could weather our storm.

Of course I was wrong.

Sherrybaby is about a person who wants to be a good mom, but doesn’t know how to do it. Its about someone with a dirty past, who is trying to reinvent herself. Most of all, its about how f***ing hard it is live a normal life, let alone re-insert  yourself into normal life, after you’ve been an addict, been in prison and left your child.

After Rooferman successfully removed himself from our lives, I though maybe him watching Sherrybaby would make him realize that no parent is perfect, and most of time we really don’t know what we are doing. I thought he would be able to relate to Sherry’s character and identify with her struggle to be a “functioning member of society.”

There are scenes in Sherrybaby that were eerily similar to how Rooferman would react to certain situations. Sherry would get so frustrated that she would punch cabinet doors, throw dishes in the sink, in order to fill the void of powerlessness. Most of her actions were functioning on a basic, instinctual, animalistic level. When a man bumps into her on the street, Sherry, fresh out of prison, turns around and follows him, saying “Excuse YOU! Hey Sir, You just bumped into me! Hey! Rude Motherf***er.”

I’ve seen Rooferman utilize the same intimidation techniques when someone is “disrespecting” him or when he feels threatened. He flares his nostrils, puffs out his chest, and stares people down. Sometimes we would walk down the street and all of a sudden he would be looking over his shoulder at someone, saying “yeah, just keep walking.” I wouldn’t even have noticed that someone passed us.

Sherry does terrible, awful things in the film and you want to scream obscenities at her, call her trash and a piece of s*** mother. There are terrible, awful things that happen to her as well, things that make you want to vomit, things that make you want to say, “well, hell if I that had happened to me, I probably would have reacted the same way.”

I really don’t want to deter anyone from watching Sherrybaby because I’m comparing some of her despicable behavior to Rooferman’s. Obviously my pathetic, passive-agressive movie-therapy philosophy didn’t work. I never got him to watch the movie. Even if I had, it probably wouldn’t have affected him the way I wanted it to. If anything, you should watch it because the acting is so powerful. I talked about Marissa Tomei’s performance in In the Bedroom as harrowing, but really, its nothing compared to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance in this film.

 I guarantee Sherrybaby will trigger an intense reaction in any mother. Whether you consider her actions unforgivable, or see some glimpse of hope in her future with her daughter, as a mom, there’s no way to deny her struggle to find a sense of humanity.

This is the scene that struck me the hardest:

Sherry

I just wanted to ask you…if you could help me take care of my daughter.

Sherry’s brother

Of course Sherry, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Sherry

I know, but I never asked you. So…would you please help me take care of my daughter? I can’t do it on my own.

Why was this scene was so powerful to me? Maybe it was watching someone have the courage to admit her inabilities and ask for help. Maybe it was the ability to put aside the pride Sherry displayed so adamantly through the movie and finally become humble. Maybe deep down, I was fantasizing Rooferman saying something similar to me; expressing gratitude for the care and effort I’ve dedicated to raising our daughter, and finally getting some sort of conformation on that. That was my emotional reaction. I’m curious to what yours would be.

If I haven’t completed turned you off yet, watch the trailer here. You can also hear an interview on NPR about the movie here.

Noteworthy Single Mom Character #1

One of the most harrowing single mom roles I’ve ever witnessed an actor portray was Marissa Tomei’s character in the 2001 film In the Bedroom.

If you haven’t rented this movie and you are a parent of any type, go rent it. Its honestly one of my favorite movies, dispite how disturbing and intense it is. 

I like dramas, but mostly I like movies about a place. The setting of the film is wicked important to me, because it can be a character in itself. Sometimes the setting of a film literally molds the character’s personalities, actions and can change the entire plot of the film.

In the Bedroom takes place in a coastal town in Maine, so if you’ve ever lived in New England, you can understand what kind of a role that plays in a movie: Red Sox games act as the main soundtrack of the movie, as do lobster boat motors, thick New England accents (seriously, there is hardly any music in this film, other than the natural sounds in each scene).

Tomei’s character is a newly single mom who can’t get divorced due to “Maine’s crazy laws.” She’s got two sons and an ass that routinely gets oogled by the local dudes. She’s also got a crazy baby daddy as well, who is the son of the richest family in the small town. Tomei shacks up with Nick Stahl, an aspiring architect who barely has his feet wet in college. Stahl is also the only son of the beloved town doctor (Wilkinson) and music teacher (Spacek), and his relationship with the single mom becomes hot gossip when he starts taking a more serious role in her life. Major darkness descends on the film from there.

Even though the movie isn’t necessarily about a single mom, her role is pivotal in the story. Her place in the small town, the family of her boyfriend and her ex’s life is painfully obvious. She is lusted after, yet unwanted. She is tainted, yet admired. The dynamic between the young, single mother, and the married, senior mother of her boyfriend is mesmerizing.

“She’s such a brave girl,” the boyfriend’s mother sympathizes, yet whispers her husband, “You know this isn’t the first time she’s messed around.”

This movie hard to watch. It starts off fast and comes to a screeching halt, where you are left to sort through the aftermath of the single mom-created climax. The first time I saw this movie, it shook me to the core, and I saw it way before I was ever a single mom. Now that my life has changed so much, the movie has an even deeper meaning.

One of my struggles as a single parent is the fear that this movie so eloquently presents: How dangerous is it to involve someone new in your twisted and haunted past?

I’m still coming to grips with the pain and suffering (and I’m sure everyone deals with this differently) of my past. I’m still trying to sort through all the events and decisions that were made, almost a year later. Personally, I can’t even imagine throwing a new relationship into that stew, which is why I was so baffled by Rooferman’s immediate proclamation of love for another, right after he had told me it was over. How can someone move on so quickly? Maybe I’m just too sensitive, while the more resilient members of society are the ones who are able to continue with their lives without a blink of an eye.

In the Bedroom plays on so many emotions: love, loss, revenge, fear, motherhood, rage, forgiveness, pain, ignorance and strength; pretty much every emotion I’ve experienced in the last two years. This movie also makes you think “What would I do if I were faced with that situation? How would I cope?”

More Noteworthy Single Mom Characters to come….