Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

STEPMOM

Directed by Chris Columbus (1998, Columbia Tristar)
Starring Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, and Jena Malone

A step-mom learns to cope with an ex-wife and her jealous kids.

View Count: Twice

 

 

4 stars

March 11th, 2002 on the TV

 
    Very touching, very real-life, and an excellent example of a story about acceptance in the face of huge prejudices.

I had forgotten a lot about this movie. Everybody did a great job in the acting department. Julia Roberts was good as the ex-husband's lover, who doesn't want kids, but knows that they are important to her boyfriend, so tries her best, while not giving up her lifestyle. It reminds me of "those people" who claim that when they have kids, nothing in their life will change. If that were true, no doubt their children are getting the raw end of the deal and feel neglected. It was nice to see her finally quit her job near the end, choosing the welfare of the children over a lifestyle that she no longer wants, but I think her boss should have been bluffing, and started to make compromises.

She grows close to the kids, especially after being threatened with a court order by their mother, who blames her for losing young Ben in Central Park. His line "I knew exactly where I was" is typical and precious! Isabel at first tries to bribe them (with food and a puppy), but eventually gets to be their friends simply by being herself. And after she finds out that Jackie has cancer, the relationship suddenly becomes one of amiability. Of course, there are still rough times, as the two "mothers" have different approaches to life.

Jackie, played by Susan Sarandon, was incredible. She was completely believable in any situation, from being bitingly sarcastic, bitter, overprotective, to sad, reluctant, and calm. In fact, she displays her character's features perfectly when showing us that face where Jackie tries to pretend that she's cool. We can see it in her eyes, and the only reason that the other characters can't is because they are not paying attantion. Though her expression is one of calm acceptance, such as when she finds out about the cancer, or when her ex-husband announces his plans to engage Isabel, we can see her thoughts, because Sarandon plays the role so perfectly!

She is the perfect mother, who has time for her children no matter what. She is never late, always remembers every appointment and schedule (which is hilarious when she tries to recite the complex thing to Isabel!), and is perfect in every other way. She is politely curious about events, but we can tell that she doesn't want to pry. She lets her children know that they can come to her, but won't try to force information out of them. She calmly accepts her pre-teen's constantly-changing mind with regards to everything, including a Halloween costume that is already made.

Ed Harris doesn't get much to do in this film, and he disappears for long stretches at a time. He is the focal point, however, as everything revolves around him. He is the reason that Isabel ends up taking care of the children, and the reason for so much of Jackie's anguish. The children love him, of course, but they love their mother more. Ben's line "if you want me to hate [Isabel], I will" is gut wrenching, and has to be the saddest part of the entire movie.

Ben has a totally perfect character. A magician at heart, he really does look like "he has something to hide", a secret he is keeping from everybody. His face is a permanent smirk, and he is able to play it up in such a way the nobody with a tiny bit of emotion could get angry at him for more than an instant. He goes on without a care in the world, enjoying time with his mother and Isabel, though he enjoys lots of practical jokes, and he even rejoices in thinking that he "killed Isabel!" His Halloween costume as a bunny being pulled from a hat was hilarious!  But more touching was the idea of "dream vacations", which he takes with his mom.  The description of those is funny as well, as Ben declines to go to Disneyland because the lines were too long last time!

Anna is a young beauty, with unusual maturity. She is adult enough to know what is going on, but child enough that she can't hide her emotions. She gives glares that could kill after walking in on Isabel and her father having sex in the shower. She delights in telling Isabel off, making sure that she knows that she is not her mother. She even throws some excellent digs at her father, telling him that it was his job to walk away from her mother!

Surprisingly, it is Anna who fulfills the swing that brings Isabel into the family for good (aside from the cancer revelation). She has some excellent conversations with Jackie. Both of them hold up their end of the conversation extremely well, with grace and maturity. We know that Anna should never have trouble bringing up subjects of any sort with her mother. But, as she gets to know Isabel more and more, and because Isabel is an intermediate in age between herself and her mother, she starts to share more with her, as well. When it comes to make-up and boys, she turns exclusively to Isabel.

Which, of course, leads to the climactic scene, where Anna has boy problems. Her mother's advice, to ignore the boy, leads to humiliation. Isabel decides to humiliate the boy, by bringing a gorgeous Calvin Klein model to the school and pretending to have him meet with Anna. This method works better, gives Anna feelings of pride. But as her mother points out to Isabel, might she choose the underhanded way every time her life gets difficult. I think Anna was mature enough to make the decision on whether that method was justified or not. Sometimes you can't deal rationally with people, as much as you might want to. There are different methods for dealing with different situations, and not all are nice and clean. Just when they were starting to become friends, the conflict between mom and stepmom continues...

The director knows how to bring out the tears, certainly. He gushes up every emotional moment, so that we have no choice but to empathize with the characters. Thankfully, he ends the movie at Christmas when Jackie is sick, but still alive. She spends tender moments with each of her children, and finally accepts Isabel into the family. The entire film was tender, emotional. Emotions were never far from the surface in each character, and this was portrayed beautifully. Jackie was finally able to pass the torch to Isabel, however, and they discussed exactly this in a cordial manner. We can see that she has brought her children up in a very responsible manner, such that they don't have any complaints (until the divorce, at least). The children are best friends with their mother, and it shows. This movie could have been called "mom" instead of Stepmom, because it was really "mom" who shone. Truly enjoyable.
 

 

4 stars

January 26th, 1999 in the Theatre

 
    Such a touching movie, with superb acting, directing by Chris Columbus, and writing.  The teenage and eight year old dialogue could have been taken directly from a schoolyard or home that was affected by divorce.  The movie was so lifelike it was incredible.  There was not a dry eye in the place by the end of it.  
   

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