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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    English Teacher

    £21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a dynamic En...

    SAP Data Migration Lead

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform