Parenthood, in any form, isn’t an easy job. Sometimes, no matter how good you do or how many books you read, your kids can still turn out like psychos. But that job is only made more difficult when you are forced to do it alone. For some people, even the thought of parenting with someone makes the idea no less frightening. Bringing a life into this world, then spending the rest of yours to make sure theirs is good is daunting. It truly involves a level of selflessness that can be hard to even relate to for those outside of it.
Few mediums have captured the struggle of the single parent (single mothers especially) like film does. From showing us how harrowing it can be, to sometimes giving us glimpses into how rewarding it is as well, there are many films out there that deal with what it’s like to be a single mother. Here are 10 of some of the most remarkable examples from all genres of film.
10. The Babadook
Starting off with this movie is a warning not to make assumptions with what this article’s about. The Babadook might be the best single mother movie out there for the simple reason that it realistically captures how maddening it must be to have a kid who is a spazz. Granted, Babadook is all about symbolism and how (SPOILER ALERT) being a single parent to a wild child can turn you into a literal monster, but the style, atmosphere, and terror it oozes really gets under the viewer’s skin.
Long story short, it’s about a grieving single mother who finds a creepy book with creepy characters in it, who her son is convinced is coming to kill him. Please note, most people seem to miss the scene when the mother tells her friends she is an author of children’s books. That’s kind of a dead giveaway about what the film is truly about: The genuine horrors of being a single mother and a mother in general.
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9. Little Man Tate
Now for something completely different.
Little Man Tate stars Jodie Foster as a single mother trying to bring up a little dude who is way too smart for his own good. Shortly into the movie, we see how his brightness socially ostracizes him, making her job connecting with him that much more difficult at times. Though the story focuses mostly on Tate as he tries to find a balance between the genius world and the genuine world, it also shows us how being a single mother to kids who are gifted is just as challenging in its own ways. Nevertheless, it is a very sweet film, with two really great performances by the leads.
We fully grasp that being a single mother must be the most terrifying job in the world, and this French home invasion movie takes that terror to unforeseen heights.
A pregnant woman home alone on Christmas Eve gets a random visitor who says her car broke down and she needs to use her phone. Thus begins a cat and mouse horror movie which ranks up there with some of the most horrifying movies ever made. (Note: See the original French movie, not the American remake.)
Just the simple fact that the antagonist is also a woman adds an obscene level of horror, as what woman would harass a pregnant woman? And the movie does a fantastic job of showing the strength of a mother’s instinct to protect her child – even if that child is yet to be born.
But be prepared, as there is a very solid reason the antagonist is doing all this… The reveal will leave you shaken, truly.
Changeling is a remarkable story simply because it is 100% true. A woman in early turn of the century Denver loses her child, and then has him returned to her. But, um, it’s not her actual son, and she is sort of forced into this very dark game where she has to act like it is “or else.”
While the movie itself has an overly bloated runtime and drags on, Jolie really does a fantastic job of capturing the toll this is taking on the mother of this child, and above all else, it is mind-blowing to think this really happened to a woman.
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Just because we said it was a list about single mothers, doesn’t mean every mother on the list is going to be a perfect angel.
The reality of mothering is, it beats some people down and brings the very worst of them to the surface. Though Precious is by no means a movie solely based on a single mother, we would be foolish not to mention Mo’Nique’s performance. Really. You watch the film and find yourself clenching your fists whenever she talks or comes on screen because she is just so appalling of a character.
But moms like that do exist, even though they may be very few and far between. But it has to be noted that the cruelty of this mother is kind of what gives the titular character her inner strength by the end. A diamond formed out of coal, if you will. You know Precious won’t be like her mother, and that is a testimony to her own courage and resilience.
5. Kramer vs. Kramer
We would be remiss to not mention this intense examination of divorce and single parenting from the ’70s. Kramer vs. Kramer was a brave movie at the time, as it showed a very honest interpretation of how messy a breakup and divorce can be and the toll it takes on all parties involved; from mother to father to child. And as you probably know, the cast is the stuff of legends.
Truthfully, it’s actually an exhausting picture in the sense that it shows the darkest sides of a relationship and it doesn’t candy coat any of it. Divorce can get ugly, and when children are used like bartering chips in that process, there are no actual winners.
Yes, it’s older, but it should be seen by anyone who wants to get married or have kids down the road.
4. Jerry Maguire
See, not all of these films are going to be soul-sucking movies that scare you away from parenting or only show the dark side.
Jerry Maguire is one of those movies that feels small and intimate because it is… And while some may look at the movie and think it as a Tom Cruise vehicle, anyone who has seen it knows it as a Jonathan Lipnicki joint, through and through. That kid stole the movie from both the stars. But at the heart of this Cameron Crowe movie is a single mother who catches feelings and worries that certain aspects of her life (like being a single mother) will scare the dude away, when in fact, it does the exact opposite.
3. Goodnight Mommy
Yup, we’re going dark again.
While most praise the Babadook as the ideal “being a single mother is hard” allegory film, some of us feel Goodnight Mommy does an even better job at it. Though it is best to keep this lesser-known gem’s secrets (as revealing too much reveals too much), we can give you an idea of what to expect from this German film.
Goodnight Mommy is about a mother of twins who gets home from some reconstructive surgery only to find her sons acting rather strangely towards her. Of course, to them, their once lovely mother who is now wrapped in bloody bandages is freaking them out, and they wonder if it all belies something far more nefarious than just surgery.
But you will be guessing right up until the end, and that ending really sells the whole film. It almost warrants an immediate second viewing to take it all in properly.
2. Mommie Dearest
This biographical movie about Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter’s harrowing experiences at her hands will make you question everything you know about motherhood. A seemingly broken woman just wanted a child to flaunt around like jewlery in the good times and have something to take her resentment out on in the bad times. Truth be told, it’s terrifying.
Honestly, this one is so well known, all we have to say is stay away from wire hangers!
It could be said that the mother Brie Larson plays in this movie is the world’s greatest mom. Anyone who has seen it would be hard pressed to argue that. She defines unconditional love.
Room is about a mother who, to put it mildly, got pregnant against her will and had a child in what could best be described as ‘the worst possible scenario’ in which to raise a child in. Yet, she somehow does it, and does it without flinching, compromising herself her love for her child, ever. A heavy film for sure, but a stronger testimony to maternal love we have never seen on film.
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