It’s worth saying before we go any further that the most memorable moms in queer film are the real life heroes of queer documentaries. Thank you to the mothers who bravely share their tragedies and their triumphs on film so that their stories can make a wider difference. To avoid sensationalizing or trivializing these stories, we have avoided mentions of documentaries (otherwise Jonathan Caouette’s docs would make the list twice). On this Mother’s Day we pay homage to 20 truly memorable queer cinematic Mothers, who, for better or for worse will live on in our collective memories.
# 20 HELEN in GYPO
GYPO written and directed by Jann Dunn.
Pauline McLynn gives a wonderful performance as working class housewife Helen who unexpectedly becomes involved in a lesbian relationship with a recent Czech refugee in this U.K Dogme 95 drama from 2005. A bleak, and unflinching look at these characters lives told from varying points of view has an ending that will satisfy but doesn’t stay true to the honesty of the picture.
#19 SOFIA in MY MOTHER LIKES WOMEN
My Mother Likes Women (A mi madre le guston a mujeres) Directed & Written by Daniela Fejerman & Ines Paris
Rosa Maria Sarda has played some incredibly heavy mother roles and while this 2002 Spanish comedy is not without its drama, it is for the most part a rather airy story about the 3 adult daughters of middle-aged Sofia who comes out to her daughters after falling in love with a fellow musician 20-years her junior. Sarda’s performances are always top-notch.
#18 QUEEF LATINA in LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR
Leave It On the Floor Directed by Sheldon Larry Written by Glenn Gaylord
Actual drag queen and performance artist Barbie-Q adds sass and gravitas as a house mother to a group of young, black and latin queer youth in this vibrant musical from 2011. Inspired by the real-life mothers found in “ball culture”, the fictional Queef Latina rules her house with tough love. Like the film’s protagonist, the audience may not warm up to the no-nonsense Latina until arguably the film’s most talked-about and most heart-breaking musical number “His Name Was Shawn” where Barbie-Q leads a musical “fuck you” to the transphobic family members of a young victim of tragedy at her funeral.
#17 “Ma” aka Hwei Lan in SAVING FACE
Saving Face Written and Directed by Alice Wu
The impossibly gorgeous Joan Chen has a rich and colourful film and television background and she brings a likability to the rather removed character of “Ma” in Alice Wu’s excellent 2004 romantic comedy. We are to expect a stereotypical, cultural stereotype of a conservative Chinese mother but Ma’s introduction into this Chinese-American lesbian love story brings more than a few surprises.
#16 Hannah Fabre in MA VIE EN ROSE
Ma Vie En Rose Directed by Alain Berliner
This Golden Globe Award-Winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 1999 centres around Ludovic, a child who begins to act out his dreams in reality of becoming a girl. Michele Laroque as Ludovic’s mother does a terrific balancing act of the complicated emotions her character must face as the parent of a transgender child.
#15 Antonia in BOYSTOWN (ChuecaTown)
Boystown (Chuecatown) directed by Juan Flahn
Getting along with your in-laws can be hard enough. What happens if you moved your BFs mother into an apartment building wherein resides a serial killer stalking older women? Believe it or not this is a comedy and leave it to the Spaniards to nicely balance comedy and dark tensions. Concha Velasco’s Antonia is a menace and the actress relishes every moment of her shrewish, guarded mother who loathes her son’s adorable lover. She’s so fun to watch that as irritating as she is, you still hope her fate doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
#14 Chantale in I KILLED MY MOTHER
I Killed My Mother written and directed by Xavier Dolan
French-Canadian phenom Filmmaker Xavier Dolan hit a home run with his first feature film J’ai tue ma mere and so did Anne Dorval as his mother Antonia. Inspired by the former child actor’s real life relationship with his own mother, this stylish drama depicts Antonia as a seriously flawed character who is put in a maternal position she never really cared for. The theatrical chemistry between Dolan and Dorval is outstanding and so is the film.
#13 Mae in YOU SHOULD MEET MY SON
You Should Meet My Son written and directed by Keith Hartman
Keith Hartman’s energetic indie was a sleeper hit not only at Reelout but at many other LGBT film festivals in 2010. This incredibly low-budget comedy benefits from an extremely talented cast of deliciously-written characters, in particular the film’s lead Mae played by Joanne McGee. Mae is a meddling, matchmaking, Southern mother who wants nothing but marriage, grandkids, and happiness for her son. It’s no spoiler to learn early on that when he does come out to Mae and his flighty Aunt Rose their response is to merely shift gears and pour all their energy into finding their son the perfect husband. There’s nothing more lovely and endearing than a mother and aunt who will crash a gay bar and make friends with drag queens and leather daddies to make their boy happy.
#12 Bree in TRANSAMERICA
TransAmerica directed and written by Duncan Tucker
This one is a bit of a cheat as technically this mother is a father but you can certainly argue Bree belongs on this list. While the film itself is a bit of a muddle, there’s no denying that powerhouse performance by Felicity Huffman as a male to female transexual who goes on a road trip with her estranged son (Canada’s own Kevin Zegers). This is probably only the 2nd high-profile transgender movie to come out of Hollywood (the first being Boys Don’t Cry) and Huffman received the Golden Globe for Best Actress and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category.
#11 Edna Turnblad in Hairspray
Hairspray written and directed by John Waters
“I thought John Travolta played Edna Turnblad?” wonders people under 25. The big-budget 2007 adaptation of Hairspray was based on the Broadway musical adaptation of the original film written and directed by John Waters which starred a then unknown Ricki Lake as plump and spunky Tracy Turnblad and another gender-bending performance by Water’s staple Divine. What made this particular performance unique for Divine was the opportunity to play a sympathetic and caring character. Edna’s love for her only daughter is threatened by her own insecurities and body image and is fearful when her daughter wishes to audition for a popular local teen dance show. When Edna sees her daughter give it her all, Edna’s heart melts and ours along with it.
#10 Ma Beckoff in Torch Song Trilogy
Torch Song Trilogy written by Harvey Fierstein directed by Paul Bogart
Oddly enough, there is one degree of separation with our number 10 choice and number 9. Harvey Fierstein adapted Water’s film into the stage musical and played Edna on Broadway. But Fierstein will probably be best remembered for his brilliantly written play and (adapted screenplay) TORCH SONG TRILOGY. This heart-breaking tale of loves found and lost in NYC features a third act wherein Arnold’s (played by Fierstein) mother comes to visit him after a sudden tragedy (no spoilers here). We have learned earlier on that there is a lot of latent hostility bubbling between Arnold and his mother and their emotional confrontation does not disappoint. Bancroft is completely over the top as his bitter mother and Arnold gets to say one of the most satisfying lines in queer cinema history. “There are two things I demand from the people in my life– Love, and Respect!” If you’ve never seen this gem, do yourself a favour and check it out!
#9 Dr. Finn Jeffries in FINN’S GIRL
Finn’s Girl written and directed by Laurie Colbert and Dominique Cardona
This 2007 Canadian feature is both a relationship drama and a medical thriller. This one is for all the step-mothers out there who are usually depicted staring into magic mirrors and concocting poison apples. Creative partners on and off screen Colbert and Cardona scored perfect casting with Brooke Johnson as Dr. Finn Jeffries. a beleagured gynaecologist who is forced into single-parenting the 11-year old daughter of her lover Nancy after she dies of breast cancer. To make matters worse, Finn also takes on Nancy’s role as director of a Toronto abortion clinic and is being targeted by radical pro-life terrorists. She’s helped out in the parenting and the heartbreak arenas by an attractive police detective (Yanna McIntosh) assigned to protect her. Guaranteed you have not seen a movie with this plot before with a heroine that rocks her sexy grey hair!
#8 Debbie Novotny in Queer As Folk
Queer As Folk (TV Series based on the original UK version from Russell T. Davies)
Yeah, yeah we know this one is a bit of a cheat as QAF was a television program and not a film but a whole new generation is binge watching the DVDs like crazy and Debbie Navotny’s character is tremendously cinematic in proportion. Already a queer icon thanks to her role in Cagney & Lacey, Sharon Gless gained even more queer fans for loud and proud diner waitress who was biological mother to comic book nerd Michael (Hal Sparks) but adoptive mother to the various queer characters that entered their lives. While most often the comic relief on the show, Gless’s Debbie often was given the chance to stretch her dramatic chops in story arcs that included trying to solve the mystery behind a murdered gay prostitute, and trying to navigate her rocky relationship with her HIV+ brother. Honourable Mention: Gless’s portrayal of Hannah in the festival favourite Hannah Free. While looking far too young to be playing an old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, Gless’s performance was still exceptional.
#7 Lila in BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE
Better Than Chocolate written by Peggy Thompson directed by Anne Wheeler
Wendy Crewson is a national treasure here in Canada and she even graduated from Queen’s University right here in Reelout’s home town of Kingston. Probably best known to American audiences as the first lady to Harrison Ford’s President in Air Force One, Crewson has an impressive and dynamic resume of film and television roles going back for years. One of her most memorable roles was of recently divorced Lila who moves in with lesbian daughter Maggie and her lover Kim in Vancouver. Crewson’s portrayal of Lila is equal parts naive, sexy and neurotic.
#6 Manuela in ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER
All About My Mother written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
There’s very little that can be said about the character of Manuela in one of Almodovar’s most accomplished and critically acclaimed masterpieces without ruining any of the twists of a rather serpentine story. Cecilia Roth gives a strong performance as a nurse and single mother to a teenage boy who is fatally hit by a car in front of her. The rest of the film follows Manuela’s journey that involves the world of theatre, prostitution, and HIV. A mesmerizing performance in a equally mesmerizing film.
#5 Evie Harris in GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS
Girls Will Be Girls directed by Richard Day
Girls Will Be Girls is the perfect movie to brighten up a shitty day. It’s crude, offensive and foul as any feature film where all three lead female roles are played by drag queens. What’s surprising about Girls Will Be Girls is its spot on emulation of late 70s/early 80s Hollywood melodramas and the drug-induced flashback sequence at the end of the film can only be described as: “IT’S HUGGGGE!” Jack Plotnick truly is hilarious and is backed by the powerhouse that is Coco “It Burrrrns” Peru as Evie’s best friend and personal dart board. Evie Harris is mother to single and handsome Stevie but will never win a mother of the year award whether she’s telling her son’s potential girlfriends about his tiny penis, drunk driving over a family in their backyard, or doping an ingenue’s drink to get the lead as an “Astro-phys-a-cist” in a disaster movie. Wicked mothers have never been this much fun.
#4 Laura Brown in THE HOURS
The Hours directed by Stephen Daldry based on the novel by Michael Cunningham
This one could either go to Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) or Clarissa Vaughn (played by Meryl Streep); two memorable mothers in the screen adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s beautiful book. While lesbian mother Clarissa has her complications it is Laura’s story that is truly tragic. Julianne Moore has harnessed the power of sadness and peels away every single layer of its emotion as a 50s housewife trapped in a heterosexual marriage. The scene in which Laura communicates happily with her woefully unaware husband (John C. Reilly) while she crumbles from depression on the other side of a closed door is insanely amazing.
#3 Lila in THE EVENT
The Event written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald, co-written by Steven Hillyer and Tim Marback
Dangerously close to melodrama in parts, The Event is still an involving and well-acted drama about assisted suicide and the AIDS crisis. We know that the HIV+ character Matt (Don McKellar) has died at a party where many of his family and friends attended and its up to Parker Posey’s intrepid attorney to piece together a case that implicates them in a case of assisted suicide. There are a lot of great performances from a truly exceptional cast that also includes Sarah Polley as Matt’s sister who has a particularly memorable melt down on a commercial audition. However it is Olympia Dukakis who steals the show with her quiet but oh so angry portrayal of a woman about to lose her son. Dukakis is a wonderful actress (see Fitzgerald’s recent Cloudburst for further evidence of a master at work) but her most heart breaking line is delivered in the last seconds of the film off-screen on “Matty’s” answering machine– a concession weary with defeat and painful finality. Devastating.
#2 Jules and Nic in THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
The Kids Are Alright written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Now we’re finally seeing actual, LEGALLY married same-sex couples in queer films and -surprise!- we’re just as fucked up as the rest of the married couples. Nic and Jules each give birth to a child through artificial insemination, yet the same sperm donor. The film centres around the drama that ensues once the children wish to meet their biological father Paul (played by Mark Ruffalo). There is a natural likeable chemistry to Benning and Moore which the script clearly manipulates to its advantage when shit starts to hit the fan. There was a lot of controversy when the film was released about a particular character’s motivation that incensed many viewers who expected a mainstream movie about lesbians and despite what some felt was an improbable scene, yes, some lesbians do enjoy gay male porn. Ultimately though Nic and Jules are truly memorable moms who accept that sacrifices will be endured to make a loving family last.
#1 Joan Crawford in MOMMY DEAREST
Mommy Dearest directed by Frank Perry based on the book by Christina Crawford
Mommy Dearest is not a queer movie! Pssshaw to that nonsense! It might not have started out that way but honey this gem has queer aesthetic all over it. To all you non-believers look no further than the latest release that includes a cheeky animated short about why lesbians wear plaid, a feature hosted by John Waters and drag impersonator Lipsynka and optional audio commentary by Waters again. Faye Dunaway apparently hates this movie, she hates everything about it and apparently a lot of Hollywood’s old guard weren’t too happy with her either. Joan Crawford was in real and reel life “Hollywood Royalty” and “Box Office Poison” but while her career and love life would have been enough fodder for a film, it was her daughter Christina Crawford’s take on her mother that shocked the world when her tell-all book was released and where the movie adapts its material. The irony is that Dunaway is marvellous as Crawford and is meant to be over-the-top, if anything is too much, it’s in the screenplay which seems to scream “Hey if you think this bitch is crazy in this scene, wait until the next one!” Mommy Dearest can also have the sole distinction for being the only movie that set out to be about horrific child abuse but instead elicits hysterical laughter from its audience. It’s almost impossible to choose the most memorable scene from MOMMY DEAREST as almost the entire movie is so melodramatically memorable and oh so quotable. Whether its Momma Crawford’s “Christina!Bring Me the Axe!” ; her kabuki face masque wire hanger/ bathroom cleaner tirade (or for that matter the young Christina’s “Jesus Christ” reaction; or the mother/daughter living room holiday smack down in front of a publicity reporter — its truly impossible to stop watching.