Though the 21st century is all about celebrating single mothers, earlier decades saw movies showing us a beleaguered unmarried woman with children. Many single mother roles have been A-list actress showcases that also help fuel a more important story. In most cases, a single mother character is a catalyst for fighting for something, even if that something might be a male love interest.
“Erin Brockovich” (2000)
It seems this Julia Roberts acting showcase is a key example when it comes to stories about strong single mothers. “Erin Brockovich” also enhances the idea that being a single mom provides the backbone for a fighting spirit to rail against the system. Here, we all know this particular system was Pacific Gas & Electric contaminating the water in a San Francisco neighborhood.
Even if the plot was changed a tad for dramatic purposes, we see the 21st century reality already in 2000 of an unemployed single mother with three children who has to climb her way to the top. Taking on the world gave a huge inspiration to other single moms, who likely don’t have the time to do even a quarter of what the real Erin Brockovich did.
And now for a single mother movie that isn’t usually remembered. Yet it’s one that deals with a single mother who has troubled kids and a former husband getting married to another, much younger woman (played again by Julia Roberts). If you haven’t seen the complications this causes in real life, then you haven’t seen real life.
Of course, to add more drama, the single mother (played by Susan Sarandon) ends up getting terminal lymphoma. When this happens to a single mom of a huge brood, it brings people together in a way that ordinarily would mean war.
“Hope Floats” (1998)
1998 and the dawn of 2000 seemed to be a significant time period for single mom movies. This one (starring Sandra Bullock) had another typical real-life scenario for newly divorced single ladies: Should they hook up with a new guy or be overly circumspect about it?
No matter how nurturing the new guy is, if the single mother’s children don’t take to him, the mother will be conflicted. So is the movie by the end.
You might hear some people say the lead in this confection is second only to “Erin Brockovich” as a single mother who changes people for the better. For “Chocolat,” it’s changing the lives of a town in France based via the mother’s new chocolate shop. Then along comes Johnny Depp.
As with “Hope Floats,” we have another scenario where a single mother craves male companionship without the baggage of marriage. But, yet again, the film leaves it up to us to decide if it happens.
Here you have a rare and underrated Cher movie (with Winona Ryder as her daughter) that gives the rare examination of a single mother in 1963. While the focus is mainly on Ryder, we see Cher’s single mother character go through the same problems as the later movies mentioned above. Only this time, it’s during a time when such a scenario created whispers and rumors the townspeople.
Perhaps filmmakers should go back and reexamine that time period and before to see just how many single mothers there really were then.
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