In 2009, comedienne and actress, Mo’nique won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of one of the most abusive screen mothers of all time in “Precious.” This was quite a departure for Mo’nique from her usual comic roles, but that was a fictional story. The following movies are based upon true stories and feature some very unconventional mothers as well as some much-loved actresses playing against type.
Ann-Margret has played weird moms more than once. In 1975, she played Roger Daltrey’s fictional wacko mater in the rock opera “Tommy.” In 1987, she played Ann Grenville, based on the sensational 1955 case of Ann Woodward. Three books have been written on this topic. Ann-Margret’s movie was based upon the Dominic Dunne book, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. The movie bore the same title and also featured Claudette Colbert in her last TV film role, as Ann-Margret’s frosty blue-blooded mother-in-law. If you know anything about Dominic Dunne, you’ll know that power and privilege are also involved.
Judith Light, first became well-known to TV viewers as Karen Wolek in the ABC soap opera, “One Life to Live,” going on to play many popular roles in prime-time TV series. in 1991, she played the role of Marie Hilley in the made-for-TV movie, Wife, Mother, Murderer. Marie poisoned her husband, Frank, and got a $31K life insurance policy for her efforts. When that money ran out, Marie went to work on her own daughter, Carol, but during the course of medical treatment, the real reason for Carol’s illness was uncovered. Frank was exhumed and the jig was up — or so they thought. Marie gets away and embarks on a weird journey through several states. Judith turns in a convincing performance as the deceptive, sociopathic black widow..
Meredith Baxter, most famous for her role as Alex Keaton’s mom, Elise, in ” Family Ties,” played convicted murderer, Betty Broderick, covering the story in two-part story up until 1992: A Woman Scorned and Her Final Fury. Broderick’s husband left her for a younger woman after she had spent years helping him build up a successful career. The betrayal sent Betty spiraling into madness. The once wonderful wife and mother killed her ex-husband and his new wife. Meredith Baxter’s chilling portrayal of Betty Broderick earned her an Emmy nomination. In January 2010, the real Betty Broderick was denied her first attempt at parole. She failed to show remorse or take responsibility for her crimes, blaming “voices in her head.”
Mary Tyler Moore appeared as grifter, murder, and child corrupter, Sante Kimes, in Like Mother, Like Son (2001). It was quite a departure from Mary’s regular fare, playing a woman who at her trial was called “the most remorseless degenerate ever ….” Mary becomes the evil and amoral Sante who makes her own son her partner in crime.
Cate Blanchett plays the title role in the Joel Schumacher film, Veronica Guerin (2003), about the murder of this real life Irish reporter. The case is back in the news since the apprehension of John Traynor, who was Guerin’s connection to the crime figures she wrote about. Irish criminal, John Gilligan was tried and acquitted for the murder and later stated that Traynor arranged the hit on Veronica Guerin. During the time she was attempting to expose criminal drug activity in Ireland, Veronica was threatened and shot in her home, and also received threats against her young son, which she ignored. On one level, Cate’s not really playing against type since some still see Veronica Guerin as a dedicated hero. Others have, however, looked askance at her decision to continue reporting on dangerous criminals with full knowledge of the jeopardy she was putting herself and her child in. What price glory?
Honorable mention goes to Grace Zabriskie in 1984’s The Burning Bed, with Farrah Fawcett and Paul Le Mat. This made-for-TV movie was based on the true life story of Francine Hughes (Farrah’s role), who killed her abusive husband, Mickey, while he slept. Paul Le Mat was the husband and Grace played his rotten mother, Flossie. The role isn’t exactly against type for Grace, who is a wonderful character actress, but she did such a great job, you didn’t really wonder at all how the husband turned out so evil.
CNN Justice: No parole for angry Betty Broderick (1/22/2010)
The Spy Report: Suspect in Veronica Guerin Murder arrested (9/4/2010)