In The Single Mother Project I am trying to get to the bottom of the negative connotations associated with single parents, by analysing (ish) films, TV shows and books that feature single parents. The good, the bad, and the ugly will all be discussed.
About A Boy (2002)
Any film with Hugh Grant* in is pretty much guaranteed to be up there in my list of favourite movies, sophisticated film palette that I have. And About A Boy is marvellous. This is the first time I’ve watched it and considered it for its portrayal of single mothers, though.
*Since this is my blog, I’m going to pause here to tell you about the time I met Hugh Grant when I was about seven. I sang at Liz Hurley’s nephews Christening because I was in the church choir and about three of us were whisked out of school with great secrecy and went off to this tiny church with no idea Hugh & Liz were coming and when we got back to school we were pretty much the coolest kids on the block. I wrote in my diary that day (which I found last year at mum’s) ‘I met Hugh Grant. I LOVE TODAY.’ So big it filled the entire page. I digress. Back to single mothers and Nicholas Hoult with a bowl cut…
If you haven’t seen About A Boy (firstly, treat yourself), it is basically the story of sad and lonely Will (Hugh Grant) who thinks he doesn’t need friends or family (or a job) to be happy, and whose world collides with that of Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) and his single mum Fiona (Toni Collette).
Single mother character (number one): Fiona, played by Toni Collette
I could wax lyrical about all the fan-bloody-tastic things about this film, and recite my favourite lines (‘HE’S NOT KEEN ON HIM, SHE’S ONLY KEEN ON ME), but I’ll focus on the single mother characters. There are quite a few (I’ve picked three). First up, Fiona, Marcus’ mum. Will very eloquently describes her as a ‘daft fucking hippy’. She’s a vegetarian, she wears a lot of hand-knitted accessories, today she’d probably tag her Insta-posts with #mindfulmum or #ecoparenting and have a great many followers. But this was 2002, alas, the world was not ready.
Fiona is suffering from depression, and Will comes into their life when a date he’s on with another single mum ends in them discovering Fiona has taken an overdose. Mental health issues aside*, it doesn’t appear she’s doing a great job with Marcus; he goes to school wearing bonkers hats, and is bullied by the, erm, bullies in his year. It takes Will (a complete buffoon, by all accounts) to come in and sort things out for them, to address the bullying issues and make things better.
*I, of course, don’t want to brush Fiona’s mental health issues aside. Mental health issues in motherhood is a serious issue, and one that deserves far more attention; parenting is hard enough without doing it with a seriously debilitating illness. BUT Fiona is a fictional character in a fictional film, and we have so little information about her illness that it’s impossible to make this about depression.
Is it a fair portrayal of single mothers? Some mothers are daft fucking hippies. Some are vegetarians. Some have mental health issues. Some can’t cope with life because it’s very bloody hard. And some find their reason to live and their ray of sunshine in their children.
Single mother character number two: Suzie, played by Victoria Smurfit
Will meets Suzie at a SPAT support group for single parents. She is friends with Fiona, and goes on a date with Will, believing him to have a son named Ned (that he’s actually made up). She is smart, savvy, and seems to have her shit together. She calls Will out on being a bit of a cock. We like Suzie.
Single mother character three: Rachel, played by Rachel Weisz
The last in a series of unwitting single mothers that Will prays on, sorry, woos, is Rachel. Rachel has a son, she’s got some sort of impressive media job, she’s gorgeous. She also has her shit together (even if her son is ever-so-slightly bonkers). We also like Rachel. To be honest, if all single mothers in all movies were Rachel Weisz, that would be very OK.
The thing that all the single mothers in this film do have in common is their terrible taste in men (no offence Hugh Grant, this is aimed at Will). To be honest, this is probably fair; after all, they’re all single mothers for one reason or another, it’s a fair assumption that their initial choice of partner may not have been the best.
But the scene at the beginning of the film where Will talks about how brilliant single mums are for dating because they’re a bit desperate, slutty, afraid of commitment and apologetic? …This film presents a host of likeable, relatable, impressive single mother characters throughout the film. But in that one little speech, Will, our anti-hero, basically sums up the general view on single mums in the media; skewed through the eyes of a chauvinistic loser. Pretty telling, no?
I also like the overall message in this film that no matter how your family takes shape, it’s generally better with company. And no matter how outstanding a single parent is; if they’re thriving it’s probably due to the support they’re getting from the loved ones around them.
Single mother take-away: Yep, I remain convinced this is a seminal piece of cinema.
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