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Outcompeting Mother

The film that most strongly engages with the mother’s absence is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This film, which is a reworking of a picture book of the same title (Barrett 1978),5 features Flint Lockwood, who wants to become an inventor. He is rather unsuccessful, and his mother Fran is the only person who believes in him. His father Tim would rather that Flint give up inventing and start working in his tackle shop instead. When Flint has grown up to be a young man he invents a machine that floats in the sky, which can be programmed to rain down food on the town where they live. The machine malfunctions and threatens the world, but Flint, with some help from his father, is able to destroy it.

The beginning of the film could be regarded as a textbook example of the situation the FRM outlines: a strong mother-son dyad, which leaves the father excluded. Very much the secondary parent, Tim is a peripheral character, mainly presented as the victim of Flint’s failed experiments. He cannot even speak to his son so as to make himself understood. One scene in particular, drives home the message. Flint is upset because his show- and-tell at school failed and his classmates laughed at him. Fran asks Tim to say something to the boy, but he can only speak in fishing metaphors that Flint does not understand. In the end, Fran sits on the bed, comforting the child, whereas Tim stands some distance away, looking awkward.

Tim is doubly excluded from the parent-child relationship, by his own inadequacy, and by Fran as a physical obstacle. She sits close to the child, whereas the father hovers in the background, uncertain as to what to do.

The situation changes eight minutes into the film, when the plot moves ten years forwards, and Fran is dead. In a voice-over, Flint, now in his late teens, complains that although it has been almost ten years since her death, which is left unexplained, Tim still does not understand his son as well as she did. Throughout most of the film, this remains the driving conflict. Flint craves his father’s approval, comparing it to his mother’s unconditional love, but Tim withholds it, only restating that Flint should give up his inventions and start working in his father’s shop. Everything that happens in the film happens because Flint wants his father’s love, wants to make his father ‘proud’, a word that resonates throughout the film. However, it is only when Flint rejects his mother that this love is given. In a scene reminiscent of Flint’s earlier despair over a failed experiment, he curls up in the foetal position and says ‘Mom was wrong about me. I’m not an inventor. I should’ve just quit when you said’. Father is finally privileged over mother. This time, the mother is not there as a physical and emotional barrier. Instead, Tim finally affirms his son, showing that he believes in his ability to solve the problem.

Fran is referenced again in the final scene, where Tim is finally able to express how proud he is of his son and how much he loves him. He also states that ‘Your mom always knew you were going to be special and if she were alive today she’d tell us both “I told you so”’. She is thus, to a certain extent, brought back into the family, but in order for her to be allowed to be correct, she must be absent, safely dead. It has taken Tim and Flint ten years to be able to embrace each other’s worlds and admit that they love one another, but the way their relationship is represented, Fran’s absence was a prerequisite for that to happen. The end credits show how Tim and Flint open a shop together, turning Flint’s seemingly useless inventions into money. Fran’s belief in her son almost caused the end of the world, whereas Tim’s emotional support saves the family.

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