Thanks to Better Things and Bridget Joness Baby, the dated depiction of mothers as apron-wearing goddesses has been replaced by a more realistic portrayal
Better Things opens with its protagonist, Sam Fox, texting at a shopping mall while her eight-year-old daughter wails by her side. A nearby woman looks on judgmentally. Do you want to buy her earrings? retorts the hard-pressed single mom. Cause thats why shes crying. Cause I wont buy her earrings.
Thanks to TV shows such as this and films such as Bad Moms and Bridget Joness Baby, a messier view of motherhood is having a moment in pop culture. No longer depicted as a sanctified state in which women don an apron and remove expertly prepared baked goods from the oven, motherhood with its manifest challenges and residual body fluids is increasingly being portrayed as more complex and more real.
Sam embodies all those synonyms for tired attributed to single and/or working mothers: fraught, frazzled, overworked. She is a jobbing actor and so is constantly putting herself in a situation in which she has to prove she is good enough. Shes dating but far from glossing over the logistics, as other shows have always done, Better Things offers a candid illustration of what that actually looks like.
Sam invites an attractive director shes working with back for dinner with her family and he is subjected to her teenage daughters anecdote about a school friends impromptu public defecation and her mothers latently racist compulsion to acknowledge that the director is black. Needless to say, they dont hook up. Sam cant even watch porn without being intruded upon.
Yet perhaps the most radical aspect of Better Things is that Sam has motivations and ambitions that have nothing to do with being a parent. And while she is a sometimes imperfect mother, its almost incidental; she doesnt particularly characterise herself as such, only acknowledges that shes a product of her circumstances just doing her damned best.
This summer, Bad Moms also railed against polished, prescriptive modes of motherhood. After kicking out her husband for an online affair, Mila Kunis throws down the gauntlet at a sham-PTA meeting: Im done, she announces, throwing off the weight of expectation. The film tackles an interesting and rarely aired topic: stay-at-home-mothers (sometimes I fantasise I get into a car accident, not a bad one, but I get injured, so I can stay in the hospital for a couple weeks). Beholden to four children and an unsupportive husband, she is underslept and undersocialised, with no life to speak of beyond her role as mom.
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