Follow TV Tropes


Film / Stepmom

Go To

A 1998 comedy-drama directed by Chris Columbus, starring Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, and Jena Malone.

Jackie (Sarandon) and Luke (Harris) are a divorced couple, struggling to help their kids Anna (Malone) and Ben (Liam Aiken) adapt to the new lifestyle as a result. Luke gets a new girlfriend in Isabel (Roberts), a very successful advertising director who treats her career as the most important part of her life. Anna hates her at first, but after Jackie is diagnosed with cancer and starts treating Isabel better, Anna warms up to her. Isabel, as a result, starts becoming less career-driven and more family-focused.

This film provides examples of:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Between Isabel and the visibly older Luke. Jackie bitterly lampshades this, remarking how Luke has gotten with a woman "half his age" since divorcing her.
  • Almighty Mom: Do not mess with Jackie when she is angry.
  • Annoying Laugh: Ben's laugh always includes a brief but ear-splitting scream.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Aside from some mild pallor, the cancer-stricken Jackie looks as pretty and healthy at the end of the film when she's now bedridden as she's looked throughout the entire film.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The film concludes with what is presumably Jackie's last Christmas with her family and Isabel at her side, the latter whom she's now accepted and trusts to take care of her kids. (Jackie's funeral is shown in the original script.)
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Anna. She has a hard time accepting Isabel as she initially has hope her parents will get back together, even telling her teacher her parents have gotten remarried. But, she gradually opens up to her as she's forced to accept her parents' divorce.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: When Anna becomes distraught over Jackie's diagnosis and gets angry with her for lying about it, she runs up the stairs in tears, Luke yells at her to come back:
    Luke: Anna! You do not walk out on your mother!
  • Camera Fiend: Isabel. Justified as it is her job, but she's seen taking photographs a lot in her downtime too. Becomes Chekhov's Hobby when it helps her bond with Jackie and prepare the kids for her death.
  • Career Versus Family: Both Isabel and Jackie dealt with this in varying degrees.
  • Clothing Reflects Personality: Career-driven Isabel frequently dresses all in black, contrasted with housewife Jackie's soft autumnal colors.
  • Disappeared Dad: Luke always has a work excuse to leave Anna and Ben in the care of his ex-wife or his equally busy, parentally challenged girlfriend, neither of whom call him out on this. It's even mentioned that his constantly working was a root cause for his divorce with Jackie, who says he was gone from her life long before their official divorce. Only once do we see him caring for the kids on his own.
  • Drugs Are Good: Jackie smokes medical marijuana to ease her cancer pains.
  • Extracurricular Enthusiast: Anna is involved with both soccer and horseback riding. In the original script, she was also a Girl Scout with a passion for videography.
  • First Father Wins: Gender-flipped.
  • Get Out!: Jackie to Isabel after an argument.
    Jackie: You are so self-involved. You couldn't be a mother.
    Jackie: Get out of my house. Get out!
    • Also when Isabel confronts Anna after giving the kids the puppy and Isabel accidentally insults Anna.
      Anna: Well, this is my room, why don't you respect that and get out?
  • Good Parents: Jackie cares for her children with such effortless competence that you'd think she has never lost her temper or screwed up in any way once. And she doesn't even drink coffee!
  • Good Stepmother: The film is all about a woman trying to bond with her boyfriend's leery children and to make peace with his former wife.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Isabel spends more time caring for Luke's kids than he does.
  • Inconvenient Darkroom Illumination: Averted: Jackie opens the door wide open when entering Isabel's darkroom, but this does not appear to cause any trouble. A rare instance in cinema where Shown Their Work means this is a Justified Trope. Jackie asks to come in as Isabel is finishing up developing her negatives. The four trays on the table are solutions to develop the print, and both prints in this shot have been "fixed," meaning exposure has been artificially stopped and light won't hurt the photo. Isabel even flips on the overhead lights while taking the final print out of the "wash" tray, which rinses the print of chemicals.
  • Insufferable Genius: Isabel has a pretty bad attitude at work, which her boss points out. That said, she's still a very talented photographer, and her vision for a particular shoot turns out to be far better than what she had originally been assigned.
  • Jerkass to One: Jackie is determined to hate Isabel, especially after she gets engaged to Luke. She tries to undermine Isabel's growing relationship with her daughter by sabotaging any attempt to get closer. An example is earlier in the movie when Isabel suggests to Jackie that she takes Anna to a Pearl Jam concert. Jackie vetoes the idea, saying Anna is too young and it's a school night. Later, after Anna and Isabel get closer, Jackie steals the very idea and gives a delighted Anna the concert tickets right in front of Isabel. Granted, Isabel is the only person Jackie is so relentlessly spiteful toward, she's a very loving mother to her children.
  • May–December Romance: Between Isabel (who's in her early 30s) and Luke (who's in his late 40s or early 50s).
  • Missing Child: Ben runs off and goes missing while Isabel is working and Anna has fallen asleep. He's found safe and sound in the Central Park Zoo and entertains the officers watching him with his magic tricks.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Not by choice and only because the terminally ill Jackie needs to groom Isabel to take over for her, but bit by bit, things begin to thaw between the two, and by the time the film ends, with Jackie presumably not having much longer to live, the two have become friends.
  • Momma's Boy: Ben. Oh, so much. Jackie says he was born premature, so she coddled him. Unlike his sister though, he doesn't hate Isabel and genuinely likes her.
  • Not a Date: Luke and Jackie meet at a romantic-looking restaurant, both wanting to tell the other something important. She with her cancer diagnosis and Luke tells her of his plans to propose to Isabel. Their waiter even assumes they're a married couple, asking Luke what his "wife" wants to order. Jackie quickly corrects him.
  • Not a Morning Person: The opening scene depicts Isabel bumbling her way through the kids' Morning Routine until the perfectly groomed Jackie picks them up.
  • Parental Love Song: Jackie, Anna, and Ben dance and sing to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
  • Parents as People: Seen in varying degrees of Luke, Jackie and Isabel, but specifically the latter, who is initially a career woman that is somewhat Maternally Challenged towards her boyfriend's two children. This is also discussed in an argument with Jackie who tries to call her out on how much the children "hate" her and she defending herself, her relationship with Luke, and her career.
  • Parent with New Paramour: A major plot point are the kids trying to adjust to their dad having a new girlfriend and wife.
  • Primal Scene: Offscreen, Anna walks in on Luke and Isabel having a Shower of Love.
  • Radiograph of Doom: We know the film is about to take a more serious turn when we see Jackie getting an MRI scan.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Isabel writes one for Anna to deliver to her "ex-boyfriend" after he humiliates her by publicly dumping her in front of their classmates and starts bullying her. Her speech is noted as being quite mature and graphic for a 12-year-old, but it knocks the boy down a peg in embarrassment and the other girls cheer Anna and applaud her come-back.
  • School Play: A Thanksgiving-themed concert in which Ben plays a turkey. In the original script, Anna was also in this show as an ear of corn.
  • Stage Magician: Ben.
  • Suburbia: Anna and Ben divide their time between Luke and Isabel's apartment in The City and Jackie's house in Englewood, New Jersey.
  • Token Good Teammate: If considering Jackie, Anna, and Ben a "team" against Isabel, then it's Ben. Aside from being a little annoying towards her and making things hard for her at times, he's mostly following his older sister and mother's examples of disliking her and doesn't really have a problem with her. A particularly noticeable moment is when the three of them are horseback riding and he remarks to Jackie (which in turn makes her begin to realize the error of her ways) "If you want me to hate her, Mommy, I will."
  • The Topic of Cancer: The entire family must come to terms with Jackie's diagnosis.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Luke presents Isabel with a small box, which she opens to find... a spool of thread. Luke ties one end of the thread to Isabel's finger and slides the ring down the other end.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Precious Puppy that Isabel gets to appease Anna and Ben is scarcely seen after he is first introduced.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: A TV movie titled "The Other Woman" released a year earlier had the exact same plot, with the exception of it being two daughters rather than a son and a daughter.
  • Will They or Won't They?: A non-romantic version, as the two main females have opinions that change so often in the course of the movie that the movie might have changed writers every five minutes.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Averted with Isabel as she couldn't be nicer. Too bad she gets a lot of unwarranted hate from Jackie and Anna (at first).