Film: Single mother saves the (celluloid) world

She may not be favoured by New Labour, but she's the new heroine of Hollywood, says Jane Eastoe

The political demonisation of single parents has become a regular feature of the news. On the big screen, however, the usually reactionary Hollywood is spawning a series of reverse rescue fantasy films featuring single mothers as heroines. Think Jerry Maguire, think One Fine Day and now think As Good as it Gets.

Single mothers are the modern day damsel in distress. The perfect Hollywood heroine: brave, strong and noble, struggling and toiling for the well- being of their offspring. They offer the acceptable face of vulnerable femininity.

It is a novel concept - speaking as a single parent I am inured to the daily headlines. I have accepted my unwished-for membership of a group that carries the burden of responsibility for all society's ills. I am used to being represented as a scrounging loafer, an individual of low moral fibre and a parent of children who will, I am reliably and regularly assured, perform less well and behave worse than their two-parent contemporaries. It is a profoundly depressing representation.

Hollywood, however, looks set to redress the balance with a born-again view of the single parent - possibly equally ludicrous in its extremes, but refreshing for all that. The Oscar-winning film Jerry Maguire first introduced the revolutionary concept of single parent as heroine. As Good as it Gets, starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, looks set to repeat the success, having already scooped a Golden Globe Award, usually an early indicator of Oscar winners.

In As Good as it Gets, Hunt (single parent with sick child for value- added heartstring tugging) plays the romantic lead. It is the story of two misfits - one, played by Jack Nicholson, is handicapped by an obsessive personality disorder; the other is attractive and hardworking, her only apparent disability her lone parent status. The two wrongs together make a right. Sort of.

Then there was Jerry Maguire. An uncharacteristic moment of professional morality brings about the loss of job, friends, and fiancee. The only person to stand by him is the vulnerable single mother. He falls for her, falls for her kid, marries her for her loyalty and then is so patently miserable that she engineers a break-up.

Maguire, of course, eventually comes to his senses. The single-mother heroine gives him the opportunity finally to emerge as the good guy. She allows him to rescue her and he redeems himself both personally and professionally.

In a nutshell, the lone-parent heroine offers her male lead the chance to be a better man, and he does not have to swim ravines or wrestle with crocodiles to be her hero. He just has to be good to her, to love her and to love her kid. Strong, single, sexy, women just cannot compete. How can they play fragile, vulnerable and dependent without looking dopey and unappealing? There are no complications, no difficulties to overcome, no imperfections to overlook.

The have-it-all, super, single heroine, is altogether too straightforward for a convincing screenplay. That is why the story of the guy who can have any girl but elects to choose from the reject pile is such a great story. It is a modern-day, cinematic fairytale. It is heart-rending, nail- biting stuff because it is so unlikely.

One Fine Day starred two single parents - although it if all single parents looked like Michelle Pfeiffer or George Clooney they would not have to worry about battling alone for too long. But I am missing the issue here.

Pfeiffer is the struggling lone parent, Clooney the part-time parent. His survival does not rest on his ability to keep, as Pfeiffer puts it: "all the balls in the air". While Clooney has the pick of the female gene pool, Pfeiffer has the handicap of lone parenthood. For her, for all single parents, just keeping up with work is a struggle, without the complication of dating.

Clooney redeems himself by choosing Pfeiffer, a woman he clearly cannot afford to mess about. In Hollywood you can muck a woman about, but you do not hurt a kid. If you date a single parent, hurt one and you hurt others. As Jerry Maguire's "show me the money" footballer, Rod Tidwell, proclaims: "A single mother man, that's a sacred thing."

It is, of course, different for men. Single fathers, as seen in Jack and Sarah and Sleepless in Seattle, are hugely desirable, As devoted lone parents they are perceived by women as emotionally attractive.

In Hollywood terms, lone mothers have to conform to a type to make heroine status. First, they should have just the one child. Second, they work. Third, they do not talk about their past and never, ever bitch about the ex. Fourth, they have a support network - mother in As Good as it Gets and sister in Jerry Maguire - an essential if romance is ever to get off the ground. In Hollywood terms, all she needs is the love of a good man to make her life complete.

Reality is somewhat different, but that is Hollywood for you and it is OK. In fact, it makes a refreshing change; it is about time the balance was redressed. Sigourney Weaver once commented: "It's harder to be a single parent than to fight an alien." That may be something of an exaggeration, but Single Mother Saves the Universe (and gets her man) is a bit of Hollywood fluff and nonsense. And that is fine by me.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Central London based firm loo...

    Recruitment Genius: Events / Conference Operations Manager

    £25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Administrator

    £14400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a multi-d...

    Recruitment Genius: Service, Maintenance & Installation Engineers - London

    £34000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of Energy Consult...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot