Warning: These contain spoilers.
“They’re gazebos! They’re bullshit!” – Jack Dylan Grazier in “It (2017).”
Let’s face it.
Twenty-seventeen was a horrible year to be a child character onscreen.
Perhaps this is true of most, but I especially noticed what seemed like a never-ending array of examples of atrocious movie parenting this year. These could be roughly slotted into several categories including:
1. Parents who mean well but are otherwise too overwhelmed to focus on their kids.
2. Parents who are deliberately neglectful and/or abusive.
3. Parents for whom “doing the right thing” winds up having horrific consequences for their children.
(Of course, we still have a month to go, but I think there’s more than enough evidence to arrive at this hypothesis early.)
Grandparents were not excluded either – witness the grandmother in “Good Time” who abused her mentally handicapped adult son and wasn’t real kind to the other non-disabled one. Perhaps matching or surpassing her is the grandmother in “Gifted,” who not only destroys her daughter’s romantic relationship but attempts to put her granddaughter’s beloved cat to sleep while her father is temporarily out of the picture. Though there were also examples to offset these, including Michael Caine in “Going In Style,” who is never too busy for Joey King, despite being at risk of losing his pension. And planning a bank robbery.
Kicking off the year, we had Alexa Nisenson’s dad (Charlie Day) in “Fist Fight,” who spends most of the movie dodging fellow teacher Ice Cube who wants to inflict serious damage on him for revenge, while meanwhile his young daughter frets about her upcoming talent show performance. Then when Charlie finally arrives at her school, she flubs her first attempt (since he’s late) and then decides to rally by performing an R-rated routine directed at her nemesis.
We were also given two onscreen examples of Munchausen-by-proxy Syndrome, first with Amandla Stenberg’s mom in “Everything, Everything” who has convinced her teenage daughter that she has a disease requiring complete housebound-ness, the wearing of interchangeable white t-shirts and limited human contact – at least until a cute guy moves in next door and starts flirting with her (from a safe distance). The second came in “It (2017),” in which Jack Dylan Grazier gets an unpleasant surprise when he goes to the pharmacy to pick up his meds. He wasn’t alone in the movie – “It” was a buffet of bad parent roles from the overbearing to the distant, including Sophia Lillis’s incestuous dad. (Few lines this year are more cringe-inducing than his repeated “Are you still my little girl?”)
In another Stephen King film adaptation, “The Dark Tower,” the young protagonist’s (Tom Taylor’s) mother attempts to have him sent to an institution for troubled youths headed by supernatural killer, Jude Law and his accomplices, forcing him to flee into another dimension. In “The Circle,” a futuristic fantasy in which no dimension of life is free from being witnessed by millions, Emma Watson’s parents have the gall to be sexually active while they’re being filmed 24-7 for their daughter’s project at her new job, thereby mortifying her in front of the world.
A less inventive but perhaps equally detrimental experiment occurs in “Home Again,” in which Lola Flanery’s about-to-be-divorced mom conducts an experiment in which she attempts to see how many men she can invite to stay in their home (including dear old dad) until tension spills over to the point where there’s trouble. (Hint: Three is more than enough.) Young Noah Jupe’s mother in “Sububicon” from the little we see of her appears to be a decent parent, but she expires early in a botched robbery, leaving him at the mercies of his dad (Matt Damon) who may or may not have arranged the robbery, carries on an affair with his sister-in-law, threatens to send Noah to military school, and eventually takes notice of what’s going on next door to reveal himself to be racist.
A standout in the abusive/neglectful parent category are the mom and dad of “The Glass Castle’s” Ella Anderson’s parents, who drag her and her siblings around the US (sometimes in the back of a moving van), teach her to swim by half-drowning her, leave their kids with their creepy incestuous grandmother (another one!), and pimp her out when she’s a teen – in order for her dad to regain a debt. In contrast, Kate Mara’s mom in “Megan Leavey” who misses her daughter’s graduation, only to respond with “Can they hold it over again?” when Kate informs her of her error, seems benign, even though she clearly doesn’t get her kid.
This summer, we also got “The House,” in which Ryan Simpkins’ parents, upon realizing that their daughter’s scholarship money has been pilfered by the town for other funds, gamely embark on a journey that involves turning their neighbor’s place into an underground casino, amputating a neighbor’s digits, and breaking the law in other ways – all in order to make sure Ryan can arrive at freshman orientation in the fall on time.
Other hapless young adults onscreen include Kumail Nanjiani in “The Big Sick,” whose parents, distraught that he’s seeing a white girl, essentially disown him. At the end, the dad shows signs of détente, but mom is questionable. In “Happy Death Day,” Jessica Rothe is trapped in a time-loop that forces her to relive the anniversary of her mom’s death (and her birthday), and repeatedly rebuffs her dad’s lunch invitation, since she’s trying to evade a psycho-killer. Her dad isn’t told outright of this horror, so he may be excused for his negligence. On the other hand, earlier in the year Zoey Deutch’s mom (Jennifer Beals) in ‘Before I Fall” does not realize her child is trapped in a time loop either, but manages to be a loving parent anyway.
Were there any halfway decent guardians onscreen this year? Well, yes, but the one that stands out is a non-parent: the guardian nun (Stephanie Sigman) in “Annabelle: The Creation,” who valiantly tries to shield her orphan charges (including a young girl crippled by polio and pursued by an evil spirit). And Tom Holland’s guardian (Marisa Tomei) in “Spider Man: The Homecoming” was also understanding of her ward’s secrecy, even when she happens upon him and his best friend half-dressed. Let’s hope 2018 brings better examples of parenting onscreen. They certainly couldn’t get much worse.