Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Imagine That
made their way onto our holiday watch list thanks to our need for films able to bridge the sixty year plus age spread at our family gathering. As it happened they were the same film and shared much with last summer’s The Smurfs.
All three focus on the transformation of men from maniacally-career-driven-capitalists to child-focused family men. More striking still are the long-suffering women waiting for their men’s metamorphosis.
Once upon a time, this story would have had the man trade in family for Mammon (A Christmas Carol). In post World War II movies, single mothers learned to love dreamers over earners (Miracle on 34th Street & Holiday Affair). Now, Hollywood imagines women left at the wayside of testosterone driven-capitalist acquisition as soft-hearted scions of the not-for-profit sector.
Like all myths, these all draw on the cultural context in which they were born. Dickens knew that men of the city insulated themselves from the rot and ruin their success wrought for others. Women recovering from the uncertainty of war – widowed or not – no doubt needed a nudge towards the possible rewards associated with risk. The three recent films reassure the many unemployed or underpaid fathers fuming over our financial fiasco that they wouldn’t want to be one of the one percent anyway.
The the ex-wives and mothers (or wife and would-be-mother in Smurfs) have distinctly warm, fuzzy, and profit-free vocations. Eddie Murphy’s fictional ex-wife needs him to watch their daughter so she can run her non-profit’s annual pledge drive. Jim Carrey sees the light and seduces his ex-wife away from a vaguely defined do-gooder trip abroad to stay with their newly reunited family. The Smurfs teach Neil Patrick Harris that he is ready to appease his artist wife’s will to breed.
These moms don’t have to quit their jobs to prove their parenting prowess (as forties flicks demanded), but they do demonstrate their commitment to their present and future children by pursuing nurturing professions.
We’ve come a long way since my grandmother had to hide her engagement or lose her teaching job. Our mythological mothers still put love before money, but they persuade their menfolk to do the same. The end of each film, (SPOILER ALERT) in which the fathers find even greater private-sector success after they put family first, left me to wonder if women or men will ever see a similar outcome in reality….