Motherhood can often be reduced to caricature on screen—just think of Faye Dunaway’s demonic portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest or Sally Field as the saintly single parent in Forrest Gump. But, when presented with their nuances, eccentricities and personal agency intact, mothers prove to be some of the most compelling characters in cinema. Below, we present eight heartwarming, tear-jerking and thought-provoking films about parenthood to watch now.
1. Away We Go (2009)
Expectant parents Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski) have three months to decide where to raise their new family in Sam Mendes’s poignant road movie. Darting from Phoenix to Tucson and Montreal to Miami, they reconnect with friends, relatives and colleagues while coming to terms with their transition from uncertain thirtysomethings to responsible adults. It’s a warm and wistful meditation on impending parenthood and the fears, frustrations and joys that come with it.
2. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Two mothers are better than one in Lisa Cholodenko’s charming family drama. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play Jules and Nic, a couple whose lives are upended when their children (Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska) track down their biological father (Mark Ruffalo), a sperm donor who never expected to meet them. There are awkward dinners, absurd arguments and the glimmers of a midlife crisis, creating a refreshingly modern portrait of marriage and motherhood.
3. Boyhood (2014)
Patricia Arquette’s masterful turn as a divorced single mother in Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age saga—filmed over 12 years—earned her an Oscar, Golden Globe and the respect of the industry. She takes centre-stage as Olivia, a woman raising her son Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and daughter Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) against all odds. Navigating adult education, financial woes and an abusive relationship, she never pretends to have all the answers, but persists, regardless.
4. 20th Century Women (2016)
Sweeping and evocative, Mike Mills’s semi-autobiographical account of growing up in the 1970s is a love letter to his bohemian mother. Annette Bening stars as Dorothea, a fictionalised version of her, who runs a boarding house populated by eclectic characters: a photographer (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited teen (Elle Fanning) and Dorothea’s son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). He is co-parented by these extraordinary women—shaped by their feminism and beguiled by their contradictions.
5. Lion (2016)
The true story of a five-year-old boy who gets lost at a train station in India is adapted with care in Garth Davis’s weepy drama. Saroo, played first by Sunny Pawar and later Dev Patel, is taken to an orphanage and soon adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Years later, he sets out to find his birth mother and the hometown he left behind. It makes for a moving finale and brings with it the realisation that our parents are precious, whether genetic or adoptive.
6. Lady Bird (2017)
From their tense shopping trips to shouting matches in the car, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), have a fraught relationship, but one bound by mutual love and admiration. It forms the heart of Greta Gerwig’s sublime comedy, which tracks Lady Bird’s final year of high school and is dotted with vignettes of their favourite mother-daughter activities: crying over audiobooks, viewing houses they could never afford and exploring sunny Sacramento.
7. Tully (2018)
Sleepless nights, lonely days and postpartum psychosis become the norm for mother-of-three Marlo (Charlize Theron), until she meets Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a nanny who changes her life. Jason Reitman’s incisive drama marks his third collaboration with writer Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) and zings with the acidic wit of its predecessors. It is brutally honest about the difficulties of new motherhood and dissects the societal expectations Marlo battles and eventually overcomes.
8. The Farewell (2019)
A breakout performance by Awkwafina grounds Lulu Wang’s bittersweet comedy about a family in crisis. She plays Billi, a writer who travels to China to see her grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The news is kept secret from the matriarch herself and an impromptu wedding is organised as an excuse to gather the clan before her passing. Packed with insightful observations, it will make you want to call your mother (and grandmother), pronto.