Why 'Anywhere But Here' is still the ultimate mother-daughter movie
More than 15 years ago, in November 1999, US theaters released the movie that would make a young Natalie Portman the most valued actress of the following decade. Anywhere But Here would see her fresh yet mature face as 15-year-old Ann, and Susan Sarandon in the role of her eccentric mother, Adele—so that, for the first time ever, two of the best actresses of the 90s would star opposite one another.
In 1999, I was only 10 years old, and not yet a fervent admirer of both. But a few years later I would find myself watching the movie over and over again, often during the same day. Towards my adolescence, indeed, the first, furious arguments with my mother would begin. And, for two or three years, those same arguments would be lit up by the thought that my mother so much resembled Susan Sarandon in the film.
You see, my mother has never been a normal person: she has always been out of the ordinary, with her melodramatic manners, the lies that were a part of her personality, the delusional optimism, and the inappropriate pessimism that characterized her so well in certain moments of her life. On the other hand, as an only and angry child, I had never been a normal teenager: just like Ann, I used to wear wide sweatshirts, looked annoyed for the whole duration of car trips, and despised my mother for no reason in particular.
However, our mother-daughter relationship of the time, even though it was not perfect, was perhaps the only source of happiness during the darkest moments of my adolescence. I will never forget the wonderful moments of lightness and craziness I shared with her, just like Ann will never forget the incredible and mysterious vitality which belonged to her mother Adele in the film.
As a result, here is why, re-watching Anywhere But Here about 15 years after its official release, I learned again how the favorite movie of my adolescence is still perfectly able to represent that complicated yet extraordinary relationship of love/hate between every introverted 15-year-old girl and her (too) extroverted mother. Here are just a few of the most relatable moments.
Looking at your mother while she eats, or while she laughs with other people after having told them some lies about you, can be incredibly annoying.
Ann: You don’t have a job in the Los Angeles school district.
Adele: I have an interview, and a great outfit.
In the first minutes of the film, Ann and her mother, Adele, are in the car. They are traveling from a small town in Wisconsin to California. Adele wanted to build up a new future for herself and her daughter, and she decided to drop everything and move with her to Beverly Hills, so that Ann would become an actress.
Ann says she hates looking at her mother while she eats chips, and the scene reminds me of all those times when I despised my mother as she ate something, for the simple reason that she seemed to do it in an excessively noisy and irritating way. Same goes for all the times in which Adele says Ann wants to become an actress to the strangers they encounter along the way, even if she knows very well that Ann has no intention at all of becoming one. No matter how frivolous or harmless, when your mother lies about you it will always bother you (especially if it’s done constantly and without even asking your permission to do so).
Sometimes, after another argument with your mother, you decide to get out of her car and go on your own.
Adele: Where are you going?
Of course, it often happens that your mother decides to stop halfway to turn back and pick you up, despite your argument—just like it happens in the first part of the film, in which Adele turns back and open the car door so that Ann can get in again and they can continue their journey together.
Whenever you have said you hate your mother, you’ve meant it (but then felt guilty about it).
Ann: This is like being kidnapped, you don’t understand that, do you?
Adele: I wish someone had kidnapped me when I was your age.
Ann: So do I.
It is useless to deny it. We all have told our mothers that we hate them—most likely several times, especially during our teenage years. It is also useless to deny that in each of those times, perhaps, we have thought it for real; we have felt its truth with all its strength, as if it were painfully tangible and irreversible. But then, after having vented to our mother all our resentment against her, having cried and laughed together, and having embraced each other in a big hug, we cannot help but regret it. Because, in our hearts, we know very well that our mother does not hate us, nor do we hate her, and that she is, on the contrary, the person who loves us most in this world.
The happier moments with your mother will perhaps be the happiest of all your life (although the unhappier will seem to you the unhappiest of all time).
Ann: He said not to ever do that to me again. He said that if you do he’ll have you taken off to prison and locked up and you’ll never ever see me again, and you’ll have to eat ice-cream on your own.
Adele: You went too far with the ice-cream business. He did not say that.
Ann: Yes, he did.
Adele: No, he did not!
The point is that you will rarely have so much fun with your significant other or friends. Because you and your mother, whether you like it or not, are a bit of the same person: everything that makes you laugh or cry is what makes your mother laugh or cry, and there is no other person in the world who knows better than your mother your deepest fears and your innermost desires.
On the other hand, when Ann and her mother are invited to a Christmas party in Los Angeles, Ann really wants to go; but, looking at the big house which belongs to the rich people who invited them, Adele decides that their small, modest apartment in Beverly Hills is not nice enough to go round with that kind of people. Ann, who does not want to go to the party on her own, is forced to spend Christmas alone with her mother.
The moral of the story is that you will rarely feel betrayed and hurt like that because of someone else who is not your mother. After all, you always expect love and understanding from her; even when your mother has her own problems to think about, but you should turn a blind eye or two.
Your mother wants the greatest things for you, even when you do not have enough self-confidence to want them for yourself.
Adele: You are a beautiful girl with great potential. I’m not going to see your future as some nothing girl in a nothing factory in a nothing town! You are 14 years old. You have always had enough to eat. You have always had a roof over your head, and if you stick with me you always will because I am your mother. I know what is best for you because that is my job. Plus, you’re going to go to school in Beverly Hills which is only the best school district in the United States! And you’ll be a child actor while you’re still a child!
If your mother wants you to attend a prestigious school you do not want to attend, or wants you to become an actress even when you do not like to expose yourself in front of other people at all, it is not because she does not know you or care for your opinion as much as she should. The truth is that, even if she is perhaps doing something wrong, it is usually because she thinks you are much better than you think—and you need someone to remember all your worth for you. Sometimes that someone can only be your mother, because she truly believes in you, and often knows what is best for her daughter before you know it yourself.
In the end, your mother will help you with the thing that you most wanted to do even if it was the thing she least wanted you to do.
Adele: Providence, Rhode Island? Couldn’t you have gotten any farther away from me?
When Ann is secretly sending an application for the University of Rhode Island, she has no idea that her application will be accepted, and deep down she knows she could never afford to pay for it. When Adele opens the letter of acceptance, she is shocked and saddened because her daughter seems to have finally decided to get away from her. But after realizing that Ann actually wants to go to the school, she sells their car and gives her the money so she can go.
You see, this is what mothers do in the end: they help you achieve your greatest goals, even when those goals are their worst nightmares. And their worst nightmare, if you think about it, is nothing but the idea of being distant from you.
Eva Barros Campelli is currently trying to become a freelance writer. She has been trained at the London School of Journalism and is (perhaps too much) passionate about American romantic comedies of the 90s—especially the ones starring Meg Ryan, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, AND Christmas trees. She considers Nick Hornby to be the greatest novelist alive, and once met him at a film festival. She is secretly hoping that he noticed her in a totally platonic way, because, after all, he is already a married man.