May 12 is the day to forgo watching the latest awesome! mind-blowing! not at all formulaic! CGI-action-adventure franchise movie in favor of something with a lady protagonist, or a least a lady-powered subplot. Newly out on DVD, the shamelessly conventional, unexpectedly affecting film The Guilt Trip would seem tailor-made for Mother's Day viewing. A a tale of self-actualization brought on by the love that never stops speaking its name -- that between a boy and his doting mother -- Anne Fletcher's buddy pic may lean a bit heavily on hoary comedy tropes, but the real-world chemistry of its stars Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogan is something a little different. Something a little more tangible. Something a little...Jew.
Though Trip's stars are saddled with the WASPy surname Brewster, they are otherwise 100 percent convincing as members of the Hebraic tribe. This is, bewilderingly, not always the case. Let's consider, shall we, some of Trip's cinematic mother-son precursors, and how their various mammeles stack up on the scale of believability:
100% GOLD STANDARD
Whether embarrassing son Ben "Focker" Stiller or Rogan, Babs can't hide her origins -- or her yenta tendencies. She may have provoked derision for undercooked character work as a romantic shrink/savior in her soapy sophomore directorial outing The Prince of Tides (1991), but Streisand nailed the troubled mother-son dynamic, made especially resonant with actual son Jason Gould filling the role.
The death of a son lends a poignant undercurrent to The Pallbearer (1996), a comic romance with a mystery at its core. In Matt Reeves and Jason Katims' unsung gem, Barbara Hershey is somebody's mother, but definitely not David Schwimmer's. That would be...Carol Kane, in a turn that presages The Big Bang Theory's Walowitz family dynamic. Also starring then-newbies Toni Collette, Michael Rappaport and Michael Vartan, the film succeeds in making Schwimmer and a who-knew? winning Gwyneth Paltrow a couple we actually root for. Kane's character's last name is Thompson, confirming that the actress is, herself, Jewish.
40% BIG CHEESE
Albert Brooks' little-known black-comic flick Mother (1996) gave a master class in painful relations as Mary Frances Reynolds (that's Debbie Reynolds to you) helped son Brooks (né Albert Einstein) face his woman problem head-on -- a more traditional approach than The Guilt Trip, which boldly gears its ultimate romantic payoff toward mother instead of son. Mother's Reynolds may not be exactly kosher, but her behavior as ever-economizing Beatrice Henderson rings all too true.
30% JEWISH BY OSMOSIS
Anne Bancroft strains for shtick as Ma Beckoff in Harvey Fierstein's Borscht Belt-drag queen-family-values love story Torch Song Trilogy (1988). Bancroft, born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, would not seem to be an ideal choice to embody the role perfected on stage by Estelle Getty (née Scher). Still, shouldn't wearing the mantle of Mrs. Mel Brooks for nearly half a century count for something?
25% WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Diane Lane's Jewish mother in A Walk on the Moon (1999) is named Pearl Kantrowitz; Mary Tyler Moore's in Flirting With Disaster (1996) is Pearl Coplin. Jewish isn't the first word you'd think to describe either actor, but...whatever, they both have dark hair -- and heavy, if not quite skin-deep, Joo-ish accents. Walk on the Moon, actor/presidential dreamboat Tony Goldwin's directorial debut, cast Lane as a married-with-children lady whose sexual awakening at the hands of hot boy-shiska Viggo Mortensen implodes the deceptively calm surface of her family's life. (Lane was perhaps more suited to the WASP matriarch she played in Cinema Verite, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's evocative 2011 fictionalized take on the iconic PBS series An American Family, a.k.a. the mother of all reality television. The unqualified delight Lane takes in her flamboyantly out/outré son -- Thomas Dekker, eerily evoking Lance Loud -- is a striking, and rare, plot development even 40(!) years after the fact.) David O. Russell's Flirting With Disaster gave an impacted Ben Stiller not one but two mothers, Source of All His Inhibitions Mary Tyler Moore and Embodiment of His Worst Fears Lily Tomlin. (Fun fact: Decades before he was provoking George Clooney to fisticuffs, screaming obscenities at Tomlin, or making mental illness fun! with photogenic blonds, Russell was already dropping big hints about his twisted psyche. His 1994 Spanking the Monkey trapped an adolescent Jeremy Davies in his worst erotocomic nightmare, thanks to a striking Alberta Watson as the mother he is powerless to resist, in more ways than one.) Russell's alternately grating and hilarious Disaster provoked love-it-or-hate-it reactions, though it's worth seeing for the Glenn Fitzgerald dinner-party meltdown scene alone. James Brolin and Richard Jenkins' climactic new-gay-dads scene and a matching coda for Téa Leoni's single mother, cut from the film's original release, were restored for the DVD -- and with them the film's comic balance.
20% UM, SHE'S GOOD AT COMEDY
Post-Blind Side (2009) interracial matriarch, Sandra Bullock makes the best of an underwritten Jewish mother role, acting against a less-than-reality-based young costar in the cloying film version of Jonathan Safran Foer's underappreciated novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). For some reason Oscars are rarely bestowed for playing Jewish mamas.
5% WELL, HER HAIR IS CURLY
Andie McDowell, Hollywood's archetypical Jewish mother, plays Selma Lidz, ma of screen-/book (and Sports Illustrated) writer Frank, in Diane "Annie Hall" Keaton's adaption of the critically acclaimed memoir Unstrung Heroes (1995). As wacky uncle Sid Lidz, John Turturro continues the fine Hollywood tradition of Italians playing Jews.
1% BAD FOR THE JEWS
Meryl Streep's turn in the remarkably charmless comedy Prime (2005), as a shrink whose son falls for one of her patients (Uma Thurman), borders on Jewface. The usually nuanced Streep was equally unsubtle as a Jewess in her feature debut, Julia (1977), and as Heartburn's (1986) Nora Ephron stand-in. The famously-maternal-in-real-life actress did shine in other matriarchal roles, however: philandering martyr momma in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), child abandoner in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Manhattan's (1979) hilariously dismissive lesbian mom.
And just in time for Father's Day...
Everybody's favorite daddy's girl Jennifer Aniston has yen for parenthood in 2010's The Switch, and it accidentally leads to a boy (Thomas Robinson, wonderful) whose highly anxious nature echoes that of Aniston's BFF Jason Bateman. An astringent yet achingly tender father-son love story, Switch boasts a diverting, prickly script -- based on a Jeffrey Eugenides short story -- refreshingly adult chemistry between real-life buds Bateman and Aniston, and for additional flavor, the comedy stylings of Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson.