Movies panic

Published on March 5th, 2015 | by Lois Cahall

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Yeah, Right! Top 10 Single-Parent Films that Get It Wrong

Single parenthood is easy! We have glamorous homes, hot romances and fabulous adventures. OK, maybe not necessarily, but thanks to Hollywood, at least we can dream.

I’m the mom of two grown girls, who I raised mostly on my own, and I’ve also been doing movie reviews for 19 years as the Screen Queen, a syndicated radio personality.  Below, my 10 favorite totally unrealistic single parent films.*

Tiara rating system: ♔ ♕ ♚ ♛

*(If you’ve missed ’em, click the titles to buy or stream this weekend!)

Panic Room

Because every NYC single parent can afford a fabulous apartment.

The Upper West Side realtor says the three-story brownstone has everything… high ceilings, palladium windows and even a panic room which is a hidden chamber built as a sanctuary in the event of break-ins.
What the realtor doesn’t tell newly divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is that the very chamber to hide in happens to be housing a safe with $3,000,000 that burglars are after.
Suddenly Meg and daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart’s) first night at their new digs turn into a nightmare.
Enter (literally) Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) and Junior (Jared Leto) in a cat and mouse game that will have the audience on the edge of their seats. As the burglars’ frustrations mount so does our tension. One burglar is the guy who designed the alarm system, one is trigger-happy and one was a deceased man’s caretaker. The movie delivers the right amount of thrills and chills with Foster delivering as much steam as she did in Silence of the Lambs. Her kid is a mini Foster-in-the-making and Whitaker pulls off a sensitive bad guy role with ease. : ♔ ♕ ♚

Maid in Manhattan

Because every single parent hotel maid can land a rich husband.

Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother working as a maid at a first-class hotel in Manhattan where she “strives to be invisible.” By a twist of fate, and mistaken identity, Senate hopeful Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), runs into her thanks to the help of her mischievous son Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey).
While the heir of a political dynasty and a maid from the Bronx may seem like worlds apart, they are really just a subway ride away, because apparently what defines who we “are” is not what we do for a living. It’s been a long enough time since America’s favorite romantic comedy, Pretty Woman, and this one seems to pull out all the same sappy punches. Stanley Tucci is adorable as the bumbling assistant to the senator and the late Natasha Richardson is well-cast as the blue-blood teeth-gritting princess in the Grand Suite. Lopez gets to play (appropriately) a New Jersey type girl who lacks the sophistication or luster of a Julia Roberts, but is still charming to watch in this predictable fairy tale. But it’s Fiennes who steals the Richard Gere role with charming, lighthearted, understated and almost Gary Cooper-ish style. And we thought Fiennes couldn’t step out of his Merchant and Ivory type roles.  ♔ ♕ 1/2

Mamma Mia!

Because every single mother wants all her ex boyfriends to show up and claim her child as their own!

Two daughters and three Broadway versions of Mamma Mia later, I was reluctant to have to sit through the movie version on the big screen. But then I’m reminded of the success of Chicago and Hairspray and figured it couldn’t be too bad.
With colorful scenery and energized actors from the get-go, this movie is capable of doing things that set changes and curtain calls can’t accomplish. Not to mention, turns out that Meryl Streep, in the lead role as Donna, Hollywood’s Oscar winning royalty, can be adorable and silly, dance and even sing.
If you’ve seen the show on stage, then you know what you’re in for, but if you live in the middle of North Dakota and will never make it to Manhattan, this might be just the ticket, in the story of a young woman, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) about to married but has one question…who’s your daddy? So she sends old-fashioned letters to three potential candidates from her mother’s love life past.
Enter Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgaard as the three men who want to know the answer to the same question. Of course a simple DNA test would have solved the problem but then we wouldn’t have a movie that makes us want to jump in the aisles and join in the cast’s infectious enthusiasm. And when you’re tearing up in the sentimental moments, you’ll even be tempted—the minute the credits roll—to call your old, radical girlfriends from the disco days. That is if you’re old like me. Christine Baranski and Julie Waters do a fabulous job as Streep’s silly sidekicks. The musical “is what it is,” and it is…three tiaras: ♔ ♕ ♚

Love Actually

Because we can all find love, actually…in a few weeks right before Christmas and live happily ever after.

It’s four weeks before Christmas in London. Hugh Grant is a Tony Blair-ish prime minister to an arrogant Billy Bob Thornton as president. Liam Neeson is a recent widower raising his stepchild. Colin Firth finds his wife in bed with his brother, while Alan Rickman and wife Emma Thompson are a bit shaky. Together the multiple tales weave into a lesson that no matter what age or timing in life, it’s never too late for love. Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) teams with Grant to lead the pack of lovelorn skits. The one of aging perverted rock star (Bill Nighy) steals the show with attitude like, “Kids, don’t buy drugs—you can get them for free!” While it’s a lot of overjoy and overkill in storylines that come off more as one-liners than a cohesive force, it doesn’t matter. The over-the-top ending will send you reeling several times over as each plot soars beyond Pretty Woman or Officer and a Gentleman to their multiple endings. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh and in the end you’ll realize that all that really matters, is love, actually. ♔ ♕ ♚1/2

Step Brothers

Because all stepchildren will apparently behave like an SNL skit.

Will Ferrell loves his goofball topics and losers (newscaster, basketball player, ice skating champs) often based in the 1970s. But in Stepbrothers he sinks to an all-time lovable low as a 40-year-old mama’s boy, Brennan, who still lives home with his mother (Mary Steenburgen).
On the other side of town, another 40-year-old, Dale (John C. Reilly) lives with his father (Richard Jenkins) so it seems obvious the single parents would find themselves a match made in heaven.
After the wedding, the usual (and then some) sibling rivalry begins, until (of course) the two find some connection that makes them instant best friends. This occurs after Ferrell is instructed never to touch Reilly’s drum set, but he does, and with body parts you have to imagine. The plot gives new meaning to the word “manchild” but beyond that, it taps into every single thing a boy in middle school might say or do, to another boy, but at the same time taking the usual fart, toilet and in this case, some new childish humor, to all time highs (or lows). Adam Scott plays the perfect evil brother to Farrell, coming off as Tom Cruise and looking a little like him, too. Stepbrothers is not as bad as you might suspect probably because it’s helmed by Judd Apatow (producer) and directed by Adam McKay (Talladega Nights) though it feels more Farrelly Brothers than Knocked Up.
The beauty of this one is how Ferrell and Reilly really seem to enjoy themselves with their shocking one-liners, nasty cursing, whining, hitting and slapping. It’s one of those Dumb and Dumber-style American comedies that has a little more umph! than other summer comedies. ♔ ♕

Taken

Because every single father can win over his teenaged daughter’s affections by acting like James Bond.

The movie Taken gives new meaning to a dad telling his teenage daughter “call me when you get there.” Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired spy who left his James Bond job to be closer to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). But Daddy can’t compete with Kim’s new lifestyle—a life of luxury in Beverly Hills where she resides with her stepdad and her mother (Famke Janssen).
But when Kim and her friend decide to hightail it off for a summer in Paris, all hell breaks loose and suddenly Daddy’s spy skills come to the rescue. The writer/director team of Mark Robert Kamen and Luc Besson knows this style of story full of damsels-in-distress, prostitutes and underdogs—they did the Transporter movies.
And even though there are times in this particular story that you might want to say “now wait a second here,” the plot pretty neatly crosses all its T’s and dots its I’s (like when the dad tells his daughter “my international number is plugged into your phone” so we understand why Kim should be able to dial him so easily). The ticking clock of a middle-aged father finding his daughter within 96 hours lest she falls into the hands of the white slave traders, coupled with Neeson’s Jason Bournesque skills, make for a highly entertaining/edge-of-your-seat/pedal-to-the-medal popcorn flick. ♔ ♕ ♚

Things We Lost in the Fire

Because after you become a widow a hot guy will show up out of the blue.

After several flops, it’s good to see Halle Berry back on Oscar-worthy-track in a performance as a widow of two children who hates Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), a junkie who shows up at her husband (David Duchovny’s) funeral. Her husband has been murdered and she’s rendered frozen and helpless yet eventually able to find a common bond in this man (Del Toro) who inspires her to take one day at a time, while she inspires him to have a reason to live.
And so the movie becomes one of mutual dependency—two people who are struggling to stay “in the now.” This is Del Toro’s movie, as he delivers a performance better than his Oscar-winning Traffic—sensitive, funny and unintentionally charming, which might explain why at times the audience can’t gauge when it’s appropriate to laugh or be still. Nevertheless, the movie touches us with a different plot line that ends very realistically yet at the same time fulfills us as an audience. ♔ ♕ ♚

Trouble with the Curve

Because it’s just never too late to get along with Dad and win a World Series.

Gus (Clint Eastwood) is a failing baseball scout. His eyes aren’t what they used to be, so his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) named for Mantle follows him on his Carolina mission to find a pitcher, the one with the right curve ball. Mickey is an attorney by day, who tried to do the right thing to impress a father who was never emotionally there for her, but now she’s emotionally unavailable to him, tapping away on her Blackberry. To him, this is a strange world. He’s stuck (circa 1990s) in his world of newspapers and typewriters. Clint played a similar curmudgeon-y character in his film Gran Torino.
Pete (John Goodman) plays a sympathetic colleague who understands the rules of the game while Phil (Matthew Lillard) doesn’t want to believe the old guy anymore…a guy who hears the curve of the ball but can barely see it.
Enter Johnny (Justin Timberlake) a former recruit of Gus’s, who possesses the right dose of humor, kindness and the family-real traits Gus wants in his daughter’s future husband. Johnny’s a former Fenway Park guy who got traded, and it “bothered Gus as much as it bothered me,” he says. Now he’s scouting for the Red Sox.
It’s wonderful when a good film begins to swirl, all the components of script, director and actors effortlessly playing off each other’s performances. In this case, Timberlake’s softness to Adam’s iciness, maintaining an old-fashioned gentleness of baseball films past. How often can a movie do well without the crutch of slang, blood and blowups?
Somewhere along the way Eastwood’s medical issues get cast aside, but this is this year’s Moneyball. The film falls into a league of feel-good baseball greats, and Clint doesn’t talk to any empty er, bleachers. Instead, the old man scores again. But more 
importantly, Clint finally did a movie where he didn’t take his shirt off. He left that, thank God, to Justin Timberlake. ♔ ♕ ♚ 1/2

Waitress

Because as long as you can bake pies and screw your gynecologist, you, too, can end up happy.

Old Joe (Andy Griffith) owns a pie shop where he frequents the same booth every day run by his three feisty waitresses. One is PMS-y, bold and highly opinionated (Curb Your Enthusiam’s Cheryl Hines), one is demure, homely but hopeful (the late Adrienne Shelly), and one is the unhappily married and knocked-up (Keri Russell). But that’s okay, because she’s having a fling with the cute new town doctor (Nathan Fillion) who also happens to be her obstetrician. He’s in love with her pies and she’s his little tart, if you catch my drift.
The surprising thing about this movie’s dreams, hopes, and thrills of the affair, is that it had one of the worst movie trailers in history, yet that trailer turned into one of the best movies of the year. There is nothing that can describe how special a little and thoughtful film this is. And there is nothing more bittersweet than knowing the movie’s writer and director Adrienne Shelley—who also starred as one of the waitresses—was brutally murdered in November of 2006 and never lived to see this hit the big screen.
A movie that will leave you teary-eyed and reminiscent of that special someone, just after you’ve come down off the thrill of remembering heated love. ♔ ♕ ♚ ♛

Under the Tuscan Sun

Because why not just say, “Screw it, I’m leaving my whole life behind and buying a villa in Tuscany!”

Diane Lane gets dumped by her husband for a younger woman, loses her house in the divorce settlement and decides to take a tour of Italy. Upon falling into Tuscany, she gets off the bus, buys a house (just because the old-woman seller likes Lane despite her lowball price) and falls in love and survives. She doesn’t have a child, but she adopts a community and plays single parent to an Italian villa in wine country: ♔ ♕ ♚ ♛

 

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About the Author

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Lois Cahall is the author of Plan C: Just In Case, a “screwball comedy with heart” about a divorced single mom.



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