It’s late May, and that means Mother’s Day has come and gone. It also means that my mom just came to visit us (me and my boyfriend) in New York City, a raucous, joyful occasion. Clearly, those two facts mean that a blog post about my mom’s favorite movie scenes—and how they rubbed off on me—is in order!
I mention my dad a lot in relation to film, if not here than at least in my academic papers and personal writing on the subject. He introduced me to a great many genres and titles that have since become favorites of mine, and I treasure the notion that they will always have added meaning because they came from him.
But my mom has always been a major influence on me as well. Our sense of humor is almost perfectly in sync, and while she can’t appreciate horror or war films (see: My (Birth)Date With Hannibal Lecter), I have found myself in an uncontrollable fit of laughter with my mom all too often. And it is, and always will be, a joy!
So let’s dig deep into the scenes that make us, my mom and I, howl with laughter; those moments that bring us together in the way that only a mutual film-watching experience can.
*Note: This article should by no means be read as a parenting battle: Suzi v. Dan, ding ding! Rather, I closely associate my favorite past time—movie-watching—with the people who surround me, and therefore with my two very unique, distinct parents.
Sixteen Candles (1984), dir. John Hughes — The Wedding Scene
Sixteen Candles was a popular film for my family while growing up. It was definitely our most-watched John Hughes, and its portrait of authentic teen angst holds up to this day. But the scene that really did us all in, my mom especially, was the wedding at the end.
Sam (Molly Ringwald) is pissed throughout the movie; her older sister, Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married, and so her family completely forgets her 16th birthday is the day before. In a cruel and amusing twist of fate, Ginny is forced to take drugs to ease her through menstrual cramps on the big day. After fainting before her walk down the aisle, you just know things won’t go well. Lucky for us, they don’t: Ginny stumbles her way toward the front of the church, alternating between confusion behind her cloying veil and total indifference about the matter at hand. I always remember my mom guffawing loudly at the moment she sits down on a guest and attempts to go to sleep. The moment is still laugh-out-loud funny.
Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (1974), dir. Mel Brooks — Everything Madeline Kahn
My mom never particularly loved Mel Brooks’ crass sense of humor…except when Madeline Kahn graced the screen and gave her all every time. In both Young Frankenstein (as Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancee) and Blazing Saddles (in an Oscar-nominated role as Lili Von Shtupp), Kahn delivers broad comedy with the finesse of a wonderful, technical actress. There is specificity—and fearlessness—in her characters that many in Brooks’ cohort of actors cannot achieve.
The scene I’ve chosen is but a glimpse of her comic genius. I can’t recall any particular moments that sent my mom into a tizzy, but I know that Kahn remains one her favorite actresses, and for good reason. In this moment, Lili attempts to seduce Bart (Cleavon Little, also great), the lone black man in an old west town, who happens to be the newly appointed sheriff. Brooks’ customary visual flourishes are all here (I particularly love the uber-fast costume change), but Kahn pulls off her horrible accent and desperation with such charm that one can’t help but hang onto her every line of dialogue.
Best In Show (2000), dir. Christopher Guest — The Competition
Christopher Guest’s follow-up to the winning Waiting for Guffman (1996) presumably had a great deal of pressure placed on it (I’m not counting the Chris Farley-Matthew Perry vehicle Almost Heroes). His signature mockumentary style could easily have been a one or two-trick pony (as For Your Consideration and, to a lesser degree, A Mighty Wind showed). But instead the world was blessed with Best In Show, the best damn dog competition movie you’ll ever see.
One of the first “adult” comedies I remember watching, Best In Show was a repeat laugh riot in my family, and had us all in stitches. For some reason, though, I remember my mom particularly responding to the glaringly obvious, deadpan v. overripe comedic banter between commentators Buck Laughlin (Fred Willard, goofy and stupid) and Trevor Beckwith (Jim Piddock, thinking “How did I get stuck with this guy?!”). As they take stock of the competition—a joy in and of itself given the wealth of comedic talents on display, from Eugene Levy’s two left feet to Jane Lynch’s angry butch dog trainer—the divide between these two grows larger and larger. By the time Laughlin asks “A French dog, a German dog, and a Chinese dog: do they all bark the same?” it is impossible not to smile.
Airplane (1980), dir. The Zucker Bros. and Jim Abrahams — The Whole Damn Movie
I’ve written about my mom’s love for this movie before. It is, in both our estimations I’d think, the best comedy of all time. A laugh riot from beginning to end, Airplane! is unsurpassed in its silliness.
Watch the video below and see for yourself…
Need I say more?
So, thank you, Mommy, for showing me what it means to find great joy in the best jokes put to film: when I watch these movies, I celebrate you.