10 Movies That Get Motherhood So Absolutely Right
Rom-com? Try mom-com. You may not sleep anymore, but these ten classics will make you look at raising kids with fresh eyes.
1. ‘An Unmarried Woman’
This 1978 drama offers a fascinating glimpse of the lives of our own mothers. Feminism, infidelity, a period-perfect Upper East Side apartment, sexy escapades on the Soho art scene and a sparkling Jill Clayburgh (The New Yorker correctly called her “luminous and lyrical” at the time)—this movie’s got it all. And while Clayburgh’s scenes with her teenage daughter are only a part of the full portrait, they resonate with a sweetness and quiet authenticity we rarely see on-screen anymore.
2. ‘20th Century Women’
Another film set in the late ’70s, this time starring the equally luminous Annette Bening. She plays Dorothea—a single mother who puts her considerable creative energy into raising her teenage son. The story is about the unique village she assembles to raise her child, but it’s also a love letter to a mom who's more than capable of going it alone.
3. ‘Baby Boom’
Much about this iconic ’80s Nancy Meyers-Diane Keaton comedy (the barracuda yuppie power suits, the sexy veterinarian next door) doesn’t stand the test of time. But anyone who’s tried to feed a baby spaghetti, or stayed home alone with one in the dead of winter—when the only thing standing between you and insanity is pulverizing applesauce—will recognize it as stone cold reality.
4. ‘One True Thing’
Based on Anna Quindlen’s novel, this ’90s drama stars Meryl Streep in a typical tour de force. She’s the perfect homemaker who’s created an idyllic life for her family. And only when tragedy strikes does it become apparent how much hard work and heartbreak that actually takes.
Three words: pajama dance party.
6. ‘Postcards From the Edge’
We may never get Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back, but we can still revel in their rivalrous, ribald relationship in this on-screen adaptation of Fisher’s memoir. From rehab to Hollywood and back, this movie gets that mother-daughter bonds are complex, and celebrates how that also makes them sacred.
7. ‘Terms of Endearment’
This movie also stars Shirley MacLaine as a formidable mother figure, but nothing breaks your heart like the scenes of Debra Winger and her sons. Warning to moms of boys: When it comes to tearjerkers, this one is the mother lode.
8. ‘Bad Moms’
Come for the predictably raunchy suburban mom rebellion. (Best line: “I will fight you in the playground. I will fight you in the cafeteria. I will even fight you in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s.”) Stay for the post-credits interviews with stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn and their real life moms (now that we could watch for two hours).
10. ‘The Joy Luck Club’
Part of growing up is having it finally dawn on you—that the things you thought you knew about your mother—often what drives you craziest about her—have meanings and motivations you never imagined, possibly because she protected you from them. In that sense, this story of four women, three generations and two continents is more than a movie; it’s a revelation.