15 Most Complicated Mother-Daughter Relationships in Movies: The relationship between a mother and her daughter is often extraordinary, albeit complex and riddled with a range of emotions. In movies, the powerful bond is often explored to highlight the complexities and challenges often present in this relationship. From heart-warming to the very troubling and relatable relationships that captivate the audience, a series of movies have explored the depth of this unique relationship.

Mothers are often seen as compassionate and fierce protectors of their children, doing everything in their power to shield them from the world’s dangers and secure a future for them. However, films like ‘Carrie,’ ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Black Swan’ have shown how far some mothers will go to fulfill this motherly duty and how disastrous the outcomes of their actions can be. This is not to say that these mothers never loved their daughters or that these daughters do not share that strong bond with their parents. But in the course of preserving this bond or finding their way in the world, they become hostile towards one another, exhibiting toxic behavior in the name of motherly protection or youthful freedom. Sometimes, these relationships may be difficult, complex, or even awful, but the underlying love is evident. Movies like ‘Lady Bird’ ‘Mermaids’ and ‘Terms of Endearment’ have gone a long way toward illustrating the tumultuous and deep nature of mother-daughter relationships.

Carrie and Margaret White in ‘Carrie’ (1976)

Carrie

In this retelling of Stephen King’s horror novel, poor Carrie strives to live a normal life like every teenage girl while being taunted both in school and at home. But how could she be normal with a fanatically pious mother who treats her like the devil’s spawn? As the movie unfolds, viewers gain insights into why poor Carrie is so shy and unable to fit in. Margaret White, her mother, remains one of the terrifying depictions of a mother in movies, even going as far as attempting to stab her daughter to death.

Home should be the safest place, but this air of impending doom is hanging around Carrie’s life due to her mother’s fanaticism and ambivalent feeling towards her. Carrie’s inexplicable powers are just as terrifying as her relationship with her mother, who often locks her in a closet to pray for her sins. Bullying also plays an important role in molding Carrie into the monster of society. However, what does the most damage is her overly devout mother, who pushes her further away from the world. In this convoluted relationship, it’s difficult to tell if Margaret ever loved her child, and it is hard not to feel sorry for Carrie as she constantly tries to earn her mother’s affection.

Charlotte and Eva in Autumn Sonata (1978)

Autumn Sonata (1978)

Ingar Bergman delves into the issue of a strained mother-daughter relationship, with Ingrid Bergman portraying the overbearing, distant mother and Liv Ullman playing the subdued, nerdish Eva in this powerful and devastating piece. The drama centers around Charlotte’s visit to Eva’s home after years of neglecting their relationship. As the story unfolds, the tension between Charlotte and Eva builds, unearthing old wounds that culminate in a cathartic late-night conversation.

‘Autumn Sonata’ vividly illustrates how a mother’s neglectful relationship with her daughter can have a lasting impact on the child, even as an adult. Through the superb performances of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman, the issues of resentment, regret, and emotion in a dysfunctional family are addressed in this thought-provoking film. That fragile line between love and hate is so palpable in Eva’s relationship with Charlotte, which developed due to years of Charlotte’s neglect and self-centeredness. While many may sympathize with Eva over her mother’s selfish behavior of abandoning her children to pursue her talent, it’s difficult to choose sides as both mother and daughter are susceptible to human weakness.

Aurora and Emma in Terms of Endearment (1980)

Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment” is a 1983 drama film that tells the story of a mother and daughter, Aurora and Emma, and their evolving relationship over several decades. This list wouldn’t be complete without including this powerful movie that explores the ups and downs of Aurora and Emma’s relationship and their individual struggles with love, loss, and family. Aurora, who Shirley MacLaine plays, struggles to raise her daughter Emma, played by Debra Winger, in Texas. As Emma grows up, she becomes rebellious and headstrong, while Aurora struggles to let go and allow her daughter to find her way in the world.

Despite their differences, Aurora and Emma share a strong bond, and as Emma grows and starts her own family, she realizes the difficulty of raising a child too. When Emma’s health deteriorates due to cancer, Aurora and Emma are forced to confront their past and love for each other in a deeply moving and emotional conclusion. They may have ups and downs, but their love for each other is true.

Joan Crawford and Christine in Mommie Dearest (1981)

Mommie Dearest

The relationship between Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter, Christine, remains one of the most toxic mother-daughter relationships ever depicted on screen. As this poor child suffers at the hands of her abusive mother, it’s hard not to wonder if Joan Crawford ever loved her. “Mommy Dearest” is a powerful and unsettling portrayal of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, highlighting the impact of abuse, trauma, and the effect of narcissism and alcoholism in families. The film has since become a cult classic, serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of celebrity culture and parental abuse.

Based on the memoir of Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of Hollywood actress Joan Crawford, a biographical drama film released in 1981 depicts the tumultuous and abusive relationship between Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) and her daughter Christina (played by Mara Hobel as a child and Diana Scarwid as an adult). At first, Joan appears to be a loving and caring mother, but as time goes by, her behavior becomes increasingly erratic, controlling, and abusive. She imposes strict rules on Christina, demands perfection, and inflicts physical and emotional abuse, making the film a disturbing portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship.

Charlotte and Mrs. Flax in Mermaids (1990)

Mother Daughter Movies

Mermaids” is a heartwarming and funny film that explores the challenges of growing up, the complexities of family relationships, and the power of love and acceptance through the story of a single mother, Rachel Flax, and her two daughters. The family’s relationship is tested throughout the film as they each endeavor to find their way in the world. Charlotte discovers that she is pregnant after a one-night stand with Joe, which causes tension with her mother, who is determined to keep her from making the same mistakes she did.

As Charlotte fights to break free from her mother’s control and form her own identity in this coming-of-age comedy, the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship are explored in a light-hearted manner. This creates a rift between this rebellious and her free-spirited mother, Mrs. Flax, who is far from being the mother of the year. Like every coming-of-age film, ‘Mermaids’ has its fair share of drama and teenage angst as it delves into the complex relationship between mothers and daughters.

Suzanne and Doris in Postcards from the Edge (1990)

Mother Daughter Movies

This American comedy-drama directed by Mike Nichols follow the story of a recovering drug addict, Suzanne, as she struggles to rebuild her acting career. In order to return to work, Suzanne must live with a responsible individual who turns out to be her self-absorbed drunk mother. While these two characters may have loved each other dearly, they had no understanding in their relationship.

Suzanne doesn’t just have to struggle to stay sober but also navigate her tumultuous life while living under the same roof with her overbearing, former superstar mother. The drama in ‘Postcards from the Edge’ perfectly mirrors the lives of Hollywood creators and does a great job of bringing the mother-daughter issue to light through the powerful performances of its star-studded cast. Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine did a good job of bringing Carrie Fisher’s novel to life through their realistic relationship, hailed by many as the perfect on-screen mother-daughter duo.

Adele and Ann in Anywhere But Here (1999)

Anywhere But Here

This 1999 film adaptation of the novel by Mona Simpson follows the story of a mother and daughter, Adele and Ann August, who leave their small town in the Midwest in hopes of starting a new life in Beverly Hills. As Susan Brandon, a free-spirited woman, tries to make a better life for herself and her daughter in Beverly Hills, she inadvertently neglects her daughter, who struggles to fit in.

“Anywhere But Here” explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships and the search for identity in a heartwarming and emotional way. Amidst their fighting, hugging, and crying, Ann and Adele make it known that their relationship may be chaotic sometimes but still very deep. As Ann rebels against her mother’s controlling behavior, viewers witness the strain that often exists between a mother and daughter. On the other hand, Suzanne isn’t such a great mom, and her preoccupation with living the luxurious life she wants leads her to neglect her young daughter. However, at the end of the day, Susan realizes that the most important thing in her life is the bond she shares with her child.

Erika and the mother in The Piano Teacher (2001)

Mother Daughter Movies

Erika, a piano teacher, lives with her domineering mother, whom she desperately tries to escape through her regular visits to porn shops and peep shows. Despite presenting a façade of a self-assured woman in her early forties, Erika harbors voyeuristic and sadomasochistic tendencies. When a young man becomes romantically involved with her, the movie takes an unexpected turn as her darkest desires become a reality she was never prepared for.

While Psychosexuality is undoubtedly one of the prominent themes in this masterpiece, there’s no denying that the mother-daughter relationship plays a significant role in shaping this story. With a mother as domineering as Erika’s mother, it’s understandable why she was drawn to her fantasies, which served as a means to escape her mother’s authoritarian presence. The unstable relationship between Erika and her overprotective mother offers a glimpse into how one’s upbringing can impact their emotional and sexual well-being.

Anna and Tess in Freaky Friday (2003)

Mother Daughter Movies

When a single mother and her daughter switch bodies, they are forced to adapt to each other’s lives. These characters learn to understand each other better in these new bodies, leading to an improved relationship. Tess, the mother, isn’t depicted as a bad parent but rather one who struggles to connect with her teen daughter. While Anna may have been presented as a rotten teen from the beginning, it becomes hard not to sympathize with her as the story progresses.

Conflict is unavoidable in every relationship, and Mark Waters’ ‘Freaky Friday’ shows how misunderstanding can escalate and cause a mother and daughter to become estranged. Well, it literally took Anna and Tess walking in each other’s shoes to understand each other better. Although their relationship may be complex and difficult, their love for one another is undeniable. Perhaps it takes drastic measures such as body-swapping for mothers and daughters to comprehend each other truly.

Raimunda and Irene in Volver (2006)

Volver

This Spanish comedy-drama, directed by Pedro Almodovar, offers a distinctive perspective on a complex mother-daughter relationship. The story follows a mother, Irene, who returns after her alleged death to fix things while her daughters, Raimunda and Sole, continue to grieve their loss and rebuild their lives. This melodrama is laden with many secrets, but as the story gradually unfolds, viewers gain insights into the events that led to these secrets.

Amongst the various themes addressed in ‘Volver,’ such as loneliness, sexual abuse, death, and disloyalty, the issue of a strained mother-daughter relationship is also explored in a rather unsettling manner. The twist and the mystery never end as they shed light on Raimunda’s complicated relationship with her mother. From generation to generation, viewers see fierce mothers who are prepared to sacrifice to protect their children, thereby repeating history. As Almodovar weaves this female-driven story of grief and abuse, it is hard not to love and care for these remarkable women.

Nina Sayers and Erica Sayers in Black Swan (2010)

Mother Daughter Relationships

With a blurry line between reality and fantasy, ‘Black Swan’ tells the story of a psychologically fragile ballerina as she struggles to be the top girl at a New York City Ballet Company. The uneasy relationship between Nina Sayers and her overbearing mother is one of the most prominent themes in this psychological film. But just like everything else in this film, it’s hard to tell if this young woman was ultimately broken by her mother or due to her obsession with being a black swan. Whether real or imagined, Erica’s presence in Nina’s life played a huge role in the decline of her mental health.

The story follows Nina, who is a dedicated ballerina dancer, as she struggles to achieve her goal of attaining perfection while dealing with a series of self-doubt. With the arrival of a new dancer Lily who is naturally suited to playing the role of the black swan, Nina becomes fixated on altering herself into something she has never been to win the part. However, this obsession, coupled with other troubles and the towering presence of an overbearing mum, causes Nina’s downfall.

Minnie and Charlotte in The Diary of a Teenage Daughter (2015)

The Diary of a Teenage Daughter

This coming-of-age film directed by Marielle Heller follows the story of an introverted young girl who enters a relationship with her mother’s boyfriend to explore her sexuality and artistic awakening. ‘The Diary of a Teenage Daughter’ presents the story of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening in a humorous yet brutal way.

Her relationship with her mother heavily influences the development of Minnie’s character. Her carefree mother never considers how her words may affect her teenage daughter, leading to Minnie’s insecurity about her body. Minnie’s desire to experiment also stems from her longing for affection due to her mother’s neglect. While the plot is crafted in such a way that Minnie’s relationship with Monroe doesn’t seem exploitative, it is obvious the gap in communication between Minnie and her mother contributes to the development of this awkward relationship with her mother’s boyfriend. Nevertheless, this film never seeks to judge either mother or daughter.

Christine and Marion in Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017)

Set in Sacramento, ‘Lady Bird’ follows the story of a restless, strongly opinionated senior college student and her complicated relationship with her mother, a working-class nurse. Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother undoubtedly serves as a significant element in this coming-of-age story, effectively capturing the ups and downs inherent in this type of relationship. As Lady Bird seeks to escape her mundane life while her mother always seems to get in her way, a perfect depiction of a turbulent mother-daughter relationship is portrayed.

Greta Gerwig masterfully weaves the narrative to focus on the love and aggressions in Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, so much that It is hard to ignore the palpable strain in the relationship between these two characters, brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. Many viewers have deemed Christine and Marion’s relationship as one of the most relatable mother-daughter relationships in movies. The dialogues between mother and daughter are often powerful and authentic, showcasing Lady Bird’s yearning for freedom and their mutual tenderness. Christine’s toughness is understandable with a mum who verbally abuses her and guilt-trips her at every point. Still, she isn’t totally blameless, as she often backs Marion into a corner. Lady Bird adeptly portrays the story from both perspectives, unafraid to highlight each character’s flaws.

Jeannette and Rose Mary in Glass Castle (2017)

Glass Castle

” The Glass Castle” is based on Jeannette Walls’s memoir, recounting her unconventional and chaotic childhood. Jeannette grows up in a family with her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, and her siblings in various locations across the United States. Her father, Rex, is an alcoholic and a dreamer who often promises to build his family a glass castle. Her mother, Rose Mary, is an artist who struggles with mental illness and often neglects her children.

Jeannette struggles to find her path in life after enduring a troubling childhood in a dysfunctional family. Through a series of snapshots of the life of the main character Jeannette, viewers are drawn into the scene after scene of child abuse. Although the film’s vibrant color may have captured this family’s bleak reality in a visually appealing way, there’s no denying that it was still a heartbreaking story. Thus, some may even argue that it humanizes the abuser. However, the truth remains that it is difficult not to feel sorry for Jeannette as she struggles to cope in a home ruled by narcissistic parents, whom she loves nonetheless.

Evelyn and Joy in Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

EEATO

This bizarre Sci-fi film may be about the multiverse of madness as it follows the story of an aging Chinese immigrant. However, the primary theme that drives the story is Evelyn’s attempt to mend her broken relationship with her family, particularly with her daughter Joy. As Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) navigates this existential crisis, she realizes that her love for her daughter is the most important thing. Thus, to save her world, Evelyn must first repair her tattered relationship with her only daughter.

As this bizarre Sci-fi family drama asks the big existentialist questions, there’s much to unpack. Nevertheless, it finds a way to blend the fractured relationship between mother and daughter with the chaos of multiverses. In each universe, Evelyn and Joy’s difficulty in getting along creates a chasm in their relationship, pushing them further apart. But after her many universe-hopping adventures, Evelyn realizes that to repair all that is broken, she must choose compassion and understanding over judgment and rejection. Therefore, accepting her queer daughter wholeheartedly becomes a decision she must make.

Also, Read: Top 10 Witch Movies to watch this Halloween

Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes

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