I thought that for today's Monday Matinee, I would choose a movie that had to do with the subject of mothering. Since Mother's Day is this upcoming Sunday, I wanted to make sure that I had at least one film spotlight that focused on a mother raising their family.
Well, you happen to be in luck, because today's film features two mothers.
Well, okay, it features a mother and a stepmother.
But I'm sure most of you won't mind. After all, stepmothers are mothers too. And, contrary to popular belief, not all stepmothers are as wicked, cruel, and evil as the one portrayed in the classic tale of “Cinderella”. Still, I can't imagine that becoming a stepparent can be a job that is easy. Sometimes it can take months, years, or even an entire decade for children to accept a stepparent into their lives.
Now, I can't really claim to have much knowledge on families that have stepparents and stepchildren. I am not in a relationship with anyone who has had children from a previous marriage or relationship, nor am I a part of a stepfamily (my parents have been married since 1965). But, I have known several people who are part of a stepfamily, and in most cases, they have gotten along swimmingly. There are always exceptions to every family, but I just wanted to point out that not all stepfamilies are destined to fail.
In the case of today's Monday Matinee flashback, this is especially true. I would imagine that in the case of a divorce, it would be hard enough to deal with life as a newly single person, trying to do the best job they can to raise their kids in an uncertain situation. Now, imagine having your ex-spouse getting involved in a relationship with another person, and finding out that they are getting married. And, then imagine that something devastating happens to you in your own personal life, and before you know it, your whole life is thrown into freefall, all the while knowing that although you might not be ready for it, your spouse's new partner might be the very key to holding the family together.
That was the situation that the key players in the Chris Columbus film, “Stepmom” were faced with.
“Stepmom” was released on Christmas Day, 1998, and featured the acting talents of Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, and Ed Harris. The film did make three times its budget, but had lukewarm reviews from the general public. Regardless of this, Susan Sarandon won the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress, and Ed Harris won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor.
As for Julia Roberts...well, she didn't win any awards for this film...but don't feel too bad. She would win an Academy Award just a couple of years later.
Okay, so as I explained before, divorce is never an easy thing to deal with, especially when you have a family. For formerly married couple Jackie and Luke Harrison (Sarandon and Harris), their separate lives are intertwined with trying to help their kids deal with the situation. However, Anna (Jena Malone) and Ben (Liam Aiken) are not making it easy for either side.
To complicate things, while Jackie is trying to cope with her divorce, it seems that Luke has moved on a lot quicker than she, as he is already dating fashion photographer Isabel Kelly (Roberts), a woman who happens to be almost twenty years his junior.
One of the things that Isabel attempts to do is establish a relationship with Anna and Ben. After all, if Isabel and Luke were to get married, she would be their stepmother. While Ben seems to be receptive of Isabel's intentions (despite the fact that he could be a bit of a mischievous urchin at times), Anna wants absolutely nothing to do with Isabel, and freezes her out at first, frustrating Isabel immensely. Still, Isabel loved Luke, and was determined to keep trying to reach out to the kids.
Of course, making the situation even more intense for Isabel is the reception that Jackie has given Isabel since their first meeting. Jackie gave Isabel more than just a cold shoulder...she gave Isabel such a deep freeze that if you looked really closely at Isabel's face, you may see traces of freezer burn!
Though, to be fair, Isabel is not the only target of Jackie's frosty attitude. Jackie seemed to have some simmering feelings of anger and disdain for her former spouse either. All of the frustration and in-fighting between Jackie, Isabel, and Anna does not sit well with Luke, and he decides to let everyone know where he stood by proposing to Isabel, right on the spot!
So, imagine being Jackie, trying to process this information. It was bad enough that Isabel would soon become a permanent part of the family whether she liked it or not. But then she would receive the news that nobody ever wants to hear.
Jackie had cancer. Terminal cancer. Untreatable cancer. Nobody knew just how much longer she would have, but the hourglass was almost out of sand, and Jackie would soon have to come to terms with the fact that she only had a few months left.
And, of course, Jackie is angry, devastated, and wants to blame everyone around her for her latest setback...especially Isabel. But as the film progresses, Jackie and Isabel begin to understand each other, and...well...that's all I'm gonna say right now!
I can't reveal EVERYTHING, can I?
But, did you know that “Stepmom” was not the original title for the film? Other names for the movie that were rejected were “Goodnight Moon”, “Promises Kept”, and “Always, Always”.
Come to think of it, “Stepmom” was probably the best title of them all.
Here's another interesting piece of trivia. Did you know that there's a particular scene in the film where Isabel sings a song to Ben entitled “If I Needed You”? It's actually a song that was recorded by Lyle Lovett...a man who married Julia Roberts in 1993. The marriage did not work out, but I'm guessing that the relationship between Lovett and Roberts is still somewhat amicable.
The film was dedicated in memory of Irene Columbus. Irene was the mother of director Chris Columbus who passed away from cancer the year before the film was released.
And believe it or not, this was the first feature film to premiere on the WB Network!
So, yeah...”Stepmom” may not have been a box office favourite, and it may not be known as one of the best films of the 1990s, but I will say that I've seen the movie, and I thought it was decent. If anything, it is a tale of friendships that you wouldn't expect, heartbreak that could be indescribable, and strength that people might not expect others to have in the time of crisis.
In my opinion, this film has every emotion presented within it. And, I think that to have a great movie, you have to have that emotion so you can get involved with the characters and plot.