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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
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.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen