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6 Greatest ‘Mother’ Performances by Dianne Wiest

Dianne Wiest is an American actress and two-time Academy Award winner who has been acting in films for nearly 40 years. Working with some of the most acclaimed directors in the business, she has established herself as one of the finest supporting players in film, making it look easy in nearly any genre. Many of her best roles have come while playing a mother, and we celebrate them here in this list of Dianne Wiest’s 6 greatest movie performances as someone’s mother.

The Birdcage (1996)

Dianne Wiest
Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest (The Birdcage, 1996)

Mike Nichols directed comedy, this movie sees stars Robin Williams as Armand and Nathan Lane as Albert playing an openly gay couple who own and operate a drag club in South Beach Miami. Armand’s straight son brings home his new girlfriend, whom he wants to marry. The issue is her parents, the highly conservative Republican Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and his wife Louise (Wiest). When they plan come for dinner, Armand pleads with his father and Albert to play it straight. What could possibly go wrong? Well. Everything. Imagine Lane in a dress. Wiest has a small role but a crucial one as she suspects things aren’t quite right from the start and her scolding of her husband wins the day. Classic comedy. Very cool mom.

Dan in Real Life (2007)

John Mahoney, Diane Wiest (Dan in Real Life, 2007)
John Mahoney, Diane Wiest (Dan in Real Life, 2007)

Director Peter Hedges romantic comedy stars Steve Carell as the titular Dan who is a divorced father of three spirited girls of varying ages. On a trip to Rhode Island for the big annual family get together, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a bookstore and thinks there is a connection but of course, she turns out to be the girlfriend of his younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook). Now he has to survive the weekend while hiding his feelings and keeping his daughters from not hating him. Wiest plays Dan’s mother (along with John Mahoney as the father) in a small but pertinent role as the mom with the best advice. Wiest always has such great screen presence and truly gives the film a strong sense of authenticity, even when it veers off track a few times.

Parenthood (1989)

Diane Wiest
Diane Wiest (Parenthood, 1989)

This Ron Howard directed comedy drama stars Steve Martin as Gil and Mary Steenburgen as Karen, playing the leads in an ensemble cast about parents and their children, no matter the ages. Wiest plays Helen, Gil’s sister and the mother of two kids whose father has left them. In an Oscar-nominated performance, she is heartbreakingly good as a mom struggling to give her kids the proper guidance they need but the freedom they deserve, especially her teenaged daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) who is experimenting with a rebel boyfriend/new husband (Keanu Reeves) who dreams of being a drag racer. Helen’s powerful commitment to her children and how she teaches them that love is more than the good times is pure cinematic bliss. And of course there’s the vibrator. Can’t forget the vibrator.

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Diane Wiest
Diane Wiest (Rabbit Hole, 2010)

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, this unflinching look at despair, recovery, and rebuilding is a tour de force by all the leads, including Nicole Kidman as Becca and Aaron Eckhart as Howie, a young couple who lose their baby when a teen-aged boy (Miles Teller) accidentally hits their son with his car. Wiest plays Nat, Becca’s slightly flawed mother who also lost her son (Becca’s brother), though how and when are areas of contention between mother and daughter. Does one have rights to grieve more than the other? Wiest is astonishing in several moments, giving a raw, fearless performance that is so natural, it aches to watch. Overshadowed by the larger roles of Kidman and Eckhart, who are both very good, Wiest shines in support as a mother who keeps moving forward, no matter how heavy the steps.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Diane Wiest
Johnny Depp, Diane Wiest (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)

Tim Burton‘s now iconic Edward Scissorhands stars Johnny Depp as the hero, in a defining role that kicked off a career of eccentric parts for the actor. Here, a young human-like creature is created by a scientist (Vincent Price) who dies of a heart attack before replacing the scissor hands he’d already put on the boy. Wiest plays Peg Boggs, an Avon Lady who discovers the awkward boy and brings him home to live with her family, including the lovely Kim (Winona Ryder). This quirky but touching comedy was a huge hit and gave Wiest another great role, and one of her best as a mother. Almost.

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

Diane Wiest
Michael J. Fox, Diane Wiest (Bright Lights, Big City, 1988)

From director James Bridges comes this film adaptation of Jay McInerney’s highly acclaimed novel of the same name. The film stars Michael J. Fox as Jamie Conway, a small-time young man who moves to New York City and falls under the spell of all-night parties and lots of drugs. He becomes so entrenched with the cocaine lifestyle he nearly loses his job. All the while, his wife (Phoebe Cates), finding sudden success as a model, leaves him. Meanwhile, he can’t get a story he’s working as a fact-checker about a young pregnant woman in a coma out of his head. Worse, his mother (Wiest), recently passed away from cancer and it’s all he can do keep himself together. Wiest plays Jamie’s ailing mother, all in flashback (aside from a glimpse in a doorway), in a touching moment from her deathbed, who opens up to her son about sex, and life, and death, comparing the pain of his birth with the reason for why she loves him so much. It’s brief moment in the film, but it resonates far after it’s over as Wiest makes this the strongest performance in the movie and one of the best in her career. Mom or not.

BONUS: Little Man Tate (1991)

Dianne Wiest
Adam Hann-Byrd, Dianne Wiest (Little Man Tate, 1991)

Okay, technically not the kid’s mom, but she does try to be that when she plays a psychologist running a school for gifted children. A woman who understands the intellectual needs of brainy kids but has no clue how to reach them any other level, she is the polar opposite of  genius kid Tate’s (Adam Hann-Byrd) real mom Dede (Jodie Foster is also the director). It’s a ‘mom’ role even if she’s not the kid’s real mother. Great flick.

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  1. Matt May 23, 2016
    • David Duprey May 23, 2016