Valentine’s Day has rolled around once again, and with it, thoughts of love, candy hearts and the oh-so-guilty pleasure of romance movies. I confess that I’ve seen too many. So many, in fact, that I’ve noticed a disturbing theme running beneath all those meet-cutes and happy endings: dead moms.
Haven’t noticed? Let me run you through a list that barely scratches the surface of rom-coms with a literal skeleton lurking in their corny closet.
The Dead Mom Parade of Romance Movies
The dead mom trope is apparently inexhaustible and shows up in all different forms in all kinds of romance movies. Here are a few killer cliches that show up over and over again, along with some rom-coms where you can find them.
I’m Just a Girl (Without a Mom) Standing in Front of a Boy and Asking Him to Love Her
What could be more touching than just a girl and her dad against the world? Apparently, nothing because Hallmark loves this “just the two of us trying to muddle through life and love” formula, as witnessed in both Love in Paradise and Country at Heart. Both feature down-home girls who only have daddy and the ranch left now. Emotionally damaged and yet still horney, these gals prove that you can still find love right under your widowed father’s nose.
Prefer a more A-listy version of fathers and daughters against the world? Then you can always watch or re-watch the Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. If JLO can overcome her mom’s death and her codependent relationship with her dad and still get the fairytale ending, we all have hope!
I’m Just a Boy (Without a Mom) Standing in Front of a Girl and Asking Her to Love Him
But it isn’t only heroines that suffer from this romance movie malady. Sometimes our hero is also motherless. Like in Always Be My Maybe, where they introduce us to Marcus’s mom, make us fall in love with her, then cruelly knock her off in the first 10 minutes of the movie.
Sorry, dude, that’s just the price of romance movie love sometimes. Now man up and go get that girl!
Widowers Get Their Mojo Back
And it’s not just the sons and daughters of widowers that meet their match after mommy kicks the bucket. Sometimes it’s the widowers themselves getting in on the action. Sound romantic to you? Then check out Hallmark’s October Kiss, where a widowed dad with two small kids falls in love (surprise, surprise) with the perky babysitter that lights up their world.
At least the dearly departed wife was already dead when her husband fell in love with the nanny. Some moms aren’t so lucky.
If you prefer mid-life movie romance, then watch The Wedding March. His heart died along with his wife, but when widower Mick Turner crosses paths with an old flame, the 40 to 50-something sparks begin to fly. Let’s hope no one breaks a hip.
Need more than one dead mother to have a good cry? Something at Tiffany’s serves up a double dead-mom whammy when a widower with a young daughter falls in love with a beautiful woman who recently lost her mother. Now that’s what I call overkill. Waaaaah, pass the tissues!
Teen Love (Post Mommy Mortem)
Think teen romance movies are immune? Think again. Lara Jean’s mom in To All the Boys I Loved Before is dead as a doornail when her road to high school romance begins. Though happily it does leave her hunky dad John Corbett available.
Elle’s mother in the Kissing Booth is also pushing up daisies when cupid strikes. Unfortunately, her now-single dad is not nearly as attractive.
And even Cher’s mom in Clueless isn’t off somewhere exploring the world after a divorce. Nope, she’s six feet under after her lipo procedure went south. But does that prevent Cher from finding her first love? AS IF!
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If I Die, I’m Taking You with Me!
Sometimes romance movie writers go the extra step and kill off both parents —usually in a car crash. The upside is that they almost always leave a huge inheritance behind. But even though dads do occasionally eat the dust in romance movies, they almost never die alone.
Apparently, dead moms are a better setup for romance.
If nothing pulls your heartstrings like an orphan trying to find love, then watch Angels Falls Christmas, The Perfect Pairing, Love Finds You in Valentine or Letters to Juliet (which has a better budget and the added plus of Gael Garcia Bernal starring as Mr. Wrong).
Why, oh Why, Does Mommy Have to Die?
As you can see, I was dead serious about the kill-mommy cliche. So after a certain number of rom-coms and a truly disturbing body count, I began to ask myself why the path to romance movie love is so often paved with dead mothers. Here are a few of my theories.
The Transparent Plea for Sympathy
Romance writers usually have a mere 90 minutes to make us fall in love with a couple, make the couple fall in love with each other, then have a fight and get back together. Who has time for character building and thoughtful dialogue with that to-do list?
The easiest way to elicit sympathy from an audience? Kill somebody’s mom. After all, it always makes for a touching moment when a heroine looks skyward and wonders what her mother would have advised her about the romantic conundrum she’s in. Advice that is not forthcoming from the other side of the grave.
“Poor Tiffany, Callie, Chloe or Heather, she grew up without a mom! And now she can never get her advice at important junctures of her romantic life. Oh please, please let her find love with that architect, land developer, cowboy or high school quarterback!”
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Out of My Way, Mother!
Then again, maybe the path to love, romance and a big fat wedding is just easier when your mom isn’t around. Can she tell you all the ways your potential mate is wrong for you? Criticize their job, family or personality? Try to take over your wedding? Not when she’s dead, she can’t.
Also, the silver lining for our romance movie heroines is that her possible future husband will never be able to meet her mother. Which means he’ll never find out who she’s going to turn into someday. Now there’s a catalyst for love!
When you think about it, it’s like a counterpart to the Oedipal complex. If all men really want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers, do all women want to kill their mothers and marry the man of their dreams without her constant nagging?
Blame It on Austen
Then again, maybe this deadly theme goes farther back than we think when it comes to romance. Jane Austen’s Emma? Her mom is dead. Anne’s mother in Austen’s Persuasion? Also dead. Mr. Darcy’s mom and dad in Pride and Prejudice? Dead and deader, which does leave him conveniently filthy rich (though it’s never mentioned if they died in a carriage accident or not).
And what happens at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility? The dad croaks. Though it does give me hope that he didn’t take the mother with him in this case (which I consider to be no small romance miracle).
So maybe romance movie writers don’t hate their mothers, as I have sometimes darkly surmised. Maybe they just stuck to the tried and true formulas that came before them. I mean, if dead moms work, they work, right? Who are we to question Jane Austen when it comes to finding romantic love?
You Had Me at “My Mom Is Dead.”
Romance and fatality. I never realized what a great couple they made until I became obsessed with corny rom-coms.
And while sometimes a beloved mother on the other side of the grave makes a credible hurdle to overcome in a movie, sometimes these mommy offings feel more like an emotional drive-by like in Love Hard.
When Nina Dobrev falls in love over the phone with the guy that’s cat-fishing her, she mentions that her mom died like a year ago and how much everybody loved her. Then the mom is NEVER mentioned again. I mean, come on, was that really necessary?!
That being said, I totally love and recommend that movie. Hey, if the cost of fictional romance is some collateral mommy damage, who am I to argue?
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