The Mother in the Movie — Secretary or Fighter?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen some mind-blowing performances by women in Hollywood films that make me question what it means to be a mother — Diane Lane in Secretariat and Melissa Leo in The Fighter. Yes, these are very different mothers but they are both very strong, passionate and powerful performances.

I wondered which of these two mothers I am more like.

No surprise! I hope I am more like Diane Lane in Secretariat. Good God, the woman is gorgeous. I loved her wardrobe. But let’s look at the content of the performance and not just the deliciousness of its style. Lane is an awesome actress. She plays Penny Chenery, a gritty mother of teens who time and again, has to (wants to?) choose her horse over her kids.

There are moments in the Disney movie where Lane breaks down and then buttons herself up. This is me. On a regular basis, I fall apart — teary, weary, girly, helpless. Then, a moment later, I’m back to myself — capable, energized, womanly, in control. I will write that article or pay my bills, I vow, and don’t try to stop me. I love the strength of a working mother.

Chenery and I, we do not have the time or luxury to fall apart. There’ s work to do — horses (and children) that must be fed! Other workers depend on us. We have a family business to run.

On Sunday, I ran into Margo Martindale at church. I told her how fabulous she was in the movie Secretariat. Margo played Elizabeth Ham, Chenery’s assistant and another strong character — caregiver for the ailing father and secretary for the dwindling farm. (I need a Ham in my life.)

Margo Martindale and Diane Lane in Secretariat.

I told Margo, “You and the film were absolutely amazing.” I gushed that I was so glad to see it with my kids.

“It reminded me — especially as a mother and as a writer — that it’s okay to pursue my passion,” I said.

“Not just okay. It’s essential,” Margo said. (Love her!) She said the cast had a lot of fun making the film.

The other mother I’ve been contemplating is the Academy Award winner Melissa Leo in the Fighter. She, too, had some inspired costume pieces, and, I ask you, Are there really any mothers with figures as awesome as Lane’s or Leo’s? I don’t think so.

As the mother of dysfunctional brood, Leo was strong. Yes, and scary, controlling and chain-smoking. Like Lane, she let her guard down, but she did not button herself up. Or zip up the hurricane of her codependence into a less destructive path. She needed a job other than as her son’s manager. (Mothers, take this word of warning: Look at what happens when you live through your children’s successes and failures. Look at Alice Ward. Good God!)

These women — Lane, Martindale, Leo — are forces of nature. Strong and passionate. Hard-edged. I loved them. I know them. I am them.

I saw these on Netflix. I know, I’m a beat behind and they came out a while ago.

Melissa Leo as Alice Ward in The Fighter
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