Jennifer Lopez Tackles Parenthood in Niki Caro’s ‘The Mother’

Jennifer Lopez is on a roll with her second film this year, The Mother. The Mother is an action-drama about an unnamed ex-military sniper who must protect her daughter Zoe from the troubles of her past. It is an action-packed, emotional story, with an aura of mystique that keeps the audience anticipating what will happen next.

Jennifer stars in this film as the nameless heroine and gives a typical performance for her style. This film is produced by Jennifer’s production company Nuyorican Productions, which she founded with her manager Benny Medina in 2001. Led under the direction of Niki Caro, Jennifer brings the badass, hard-natured essence of The Mother to life.

Niki Caro is a New Zealand film director who has directed a number of award-winning films such as North Country, A Heavenly Vintage, and The Zookeeper’s Wife. She also directed two big-budget Disney movies, McFarland, USA and Mulan. Caro is only the second female director appointed by Disney to direct a big-budget film, after Ava DuVernay. What The Mother does well under Niki’s direction is it contributes to reimagining the female action hero and simultaneously challenges the conventional mother figure.

During her time in the military, The Mother arranges an arms smuggling deal with her former captain Adrian Lovell and arms dealer Hector Alvarez. In the midst of the business, The Mother develops a romance with both of the men and becomes pregnant. The Mother then learns that Lovell and Alvarez are involved in child trafficking and decides to rat the men out to the FBI. Subsequently, Alvarez and Lovell discover that The Mother is an FBI informant and begin a hunt to kill her.

After Lovell attacks the FBI safe house that The Mother is held in, she gives birth to her daughter Zoe and is forced to give her up in order to protect her from Alvarez and Lovell. The Mother goes into hiding in Alaska but FBI Agent William Cruise (who she saved during the attack on the safe house) keeps her informed on the whereabouts of her daughter. 12 years later, Alvarez and Lovell re-emerge and this time they are after Zoe. The Mother comes out of her dormancy in order to rescue her daughter and defeat the men who want to destroy her livelihood.

It is common to see middle-aged men like Daniel Craig in James Bond or Keanu Reeves in John Wick, but The Mother breaks Hollywood barriers in casting a 53 year-old Jennifer as the lead heroine.

In an interview with Audacy, Jennifer talks about how she was surprised that this role was pitched to her. It is common to see middle-aged men like Daniel Craig in James Bond or Keanu Reeves in John Wick, but The Mother breaks Hollywood barriers in casting a 53 year-old Jennifer as the lead heroine. Middle-aged women are having their moment in action films recently with films like The Old Guard starring Charlize Theron and The Woman King starring Viola Davis (both of which were directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood).

When you think about motherhood, you think of terms like “nurturing,” “caring,” “loving,” and “protective.” Well, The Mother defies all of these characteristics except for protective. You could even argue that she is a bit overprotective. The name “The Mother” for this character could be considered paradoxical as she does not emit the typical nurturing, caring qualities of a mother. The Mother acts more as a mercenary or Secret Service agent towards Zoe than a maternal figure. She doesn’t even admit to being Zoe’s mother until the end of the second act of the film.

This makes the film unique in that the audience and The Mother herself are constantly confronted with unconventional ways of being a “good” mom. Being a good mom can mean letting your child go like The Mother did immediately after she gave birth. Sometimes, being a good mom is loving from a distance.

The film also taps into an additional unspoken side of being a mom. Though The Mother is a mature, hardened, intelligent character, she is incredibly naïve when it comes to parenting Zoe. I appreciated the awkward tension The Mother has when she first interacts with Zoe after rescuing her in Cuba. The Mother shows a timid vulnerability in that moment, which is refreshing considering she is often perceived as cold and emotionless.

Further, I appreciated how The Mother adapted her skills as a soldier to parent Zoe rather than attempting to be a “regular” mom. During the second act of the film, The Mother takes Zoe to her home in Alaska and begins to train her in how to hunt and how to use a sniper rifle, so that Zoe can defend herself.

The frigid atmosphere in Alaska is a powerful reflection of The Mother’s cold attitude towards Zoe during their time together. However, The Mother taking the time to teach Zoe these skills shows that The Mother cares for Zoe’s wellbeing. There is no rule book on how to parent and the film sends an important message that you don’t have to possess certain skills or have a particular background to be a good parent.

There is no rule book on how to parent and the film sends an important message that you don’t have to possess certain skills or have a particular background to be a good parent.

On top of being a parent in an irregular profession, The Mother is a single mom. A major storyline in the film is finding out who Zoe’s father is. The Mother was involved with two men at the time of her conception of Zoe and those men are the ones who are out to kill both The Mother and Zoe.

In one scene where Agent Cruise asks the highly anticipated question, The Mother responds that neither of the men are Zoe’s father and that Zoe is hers alone. This is a powerful moment in the film as The Mother takes full ownership of being a single parent. Our society often views single moms as reckless and irresponsible, especially if they are not sure of who their child’s fathers are. The film seems dedicated to uplifting the stigma of single moms and showcasing that being a single parent takes incredible strength and courage.

Additionally, the film was careful to not punish or shame The Mother for her situation. After The Mother answers Agent Cruise’s question, that is the last time The Mother explains the situation. The audience can infer who the father may be but that concern is not what film revolves around. The ultimate motivation of the film is an estranged mother building a connection with her daughter.

Unfortunately, where her character and the film itself seems to fall short is in the plot. The story opened a number of plot lines that were resolved too soon or not at all leaving the film feeling rushed and incomplete. There was just not enough time for the audience to connect to key secondary characters such as FBI Agent William Cruise (played by Omari Hardwick) or Zoe’s foster mother Sonya (played by Yvonne Senat Jones).

Overall, while The Mother falls short in terms of executing a strong and concise plot, it offers a fresh perspective on the complexities of motherhood. The film held my attention from beginning to end and it’s always fun to see Jennifer Lopez in an action role, but I was simply left longing for more.

© Courtney Stanley (6/22/23) Special for FF2 Media®

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Watch The Mother on Netflix.

Check out the full interview with Audacy here.

Check out our interview with Niki Caro on The Zookeeper’s Wife.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: The Mother. Jennifer Lopez as The Mother in The Mother. Cr. Ana Carballosa/Netflix © 2023.

Bottom Photo: The Mother. (L to R) Jennifer Lopez as The Mother, Niki Caro (Director) on the set of The Mother. Cr. Doane Gregory/Netflix © 2023.

Photos courtesy of Netflix and used with their permission.

Tags: A Heavenly Vintage, Ava DuVernay, Courtney Stanley, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Jennifer Lopez, McFarland USA, Mulan, Netflix, Niki Caro, North Country, The Mother, The Old Guard, The Woman King, The Zookeeper's Wife

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Courtney Stanley is a Maryland native with a huge passion for film, music, and art. Since graduating from Morgan State University in 2022 with her bachelors degree in screenwriting and animation, Courtney has worked on a number of film and television productions in the DMV area as a production assistant. Courtney continues to fuel her passions through writing reviews for FF2. She currently works as a legal assistant, in hopes of pursuing her interest in entertainment law. In her free time, Courtney can be found attending a concert or writing poetry.
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