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YMMV / Imitation of Life (1959)

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  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: As suggested here, the updates to the Annie/Sarah Jane story could be a way of contextualising the original - which although a product of its time, did deal with race relations in a way that few films were willing to. Likewise that although the previous generation of African-Americans had to work as maids or in menial labor, they still worked hard to provide opportunities for their children that they didn't have. This includes the likes of Hattie McDaniel - who may have been typecast as a Mammy but was still the first African-American to win the Oscar.
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  • Award Snub: The relatively unknown Juanita Moore was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress award but lost out.
  • Awesome Moments: When Lora finds out about Susie's attraction to Steve, she offers to let the two of them be together. Susie knows her mother well enough to see she's trying to play the martyr and says "stop acting, mother!"
  • Critic-Proof: Critics trashed the movie for being soapy and melodramatic, but it was the fourth highest grossing film of the year - and made three times its budget back.
  • Fair for Its Day: Although Annie is in a servile role to Lora for most of the movie, the story essentially treats Annie as the true protagonist (with Douglas Sirke even cutting down Lora's screen time to emphasise Annie). Annie is a layered character with plenty of depth, and it's emphasised how the household really would be nothing without her. Although Sarah Jane was not played by an actress of colour (Susan Kohner was part Mexican), her story is a very real and harrowing one.
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  • Fanon: There are hints that Sarah Jane could also be a prostitute when she's living in LA. There's nothing definite in the movie, but after work she and another girl are being picked up to go out somewhere. It could just be a night out with the girls but perhaps they're being used as escorts to higher up people.
  • Girl-Show Ghetto: Due to its focus on the love life of a mother and daughter, the film has often found itself pigeonholed as a "women's film" - and many modern commentators like to point out the film's social and historical context outside of Lora's storyline. A lot of Douglas Sirk's melodramas were mocked for appealing to female audiences of the day.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: The boy who beats Sarah Jane up? The next year he'd get his big break in A Summer Place playing the love interest of...Sandra Dee, who plays Sarah Jane's sister. Makes Susie's statements that she'll get over Steve darkly hilarious.
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  • Iron Woobie: Annie takes so much shit from her own daughter based off her race but she just does her best to live her life.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Sarah Jane big time. A biracial girl who's able to pass for white, she puts her mother through such hardship but she has to go through so much herself. You really should hate her for the scenes where she tries to pretend Annie isn't her mother - but you can understand her reasons.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: The filmmakers hoped that some viewers would be drawn to the film just to see Lana Turner's wardrobe.
  • Narm:
    • The Susie/Steve stuff seems like a Precocious Crush at first, only for the movie to act as if they were in a Love Triangle and then drop it altogether. The switch in subject matter can be quite jarring.
    • Some of the "Don't you die on me" on Lora's part during Annie's death scene ruins some of the drama.
  • Narm Charm: Sarah Jane running into her mother's funeral and crying at the casket - melodramatic yes but still quite tragic.
  • Nightmare Fuel: When Sarah Jane's boyfriend discovers she's biracial, he savagely beats her up in the alley.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Troy Donahue as Sarah Jane's boyfriend who does not take her real race nicely.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Annie soon discovers that Sarah Jane is lying about what job she has - saying she's in a library when really it's a seedy nightclub. It's bound to hit home for parents who worry about their children living far away from home.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The movie pulls no punches when it comes to various racial issues - namely colorism, the plight of mixed race children, and what harm racism does to families.
  • Strangled by the Red String: Steve and Lora have had two dates before he asks her to choose between him and her acting. They don't see each other for ten years and then act as if they were great lovers when they see each other again. This is a product of the adaptation, where Steve is introduced earlier (while Susie and Sarah Jane are children).
  • Tear Jerker:
    • Annie discovers that Sarah Jane has been passing when she arrives at school to drop something off - and Sarah Jane tries to hide behind a book.
    • Sarah Jane imitating an Ethnic Scrappy when Lora has guests. Annie overhears the whole thing, and even Sarah Jane seems to realise she went too far.
    • To say nothing of Annie and Sarah Jane's final scene together. Annie pretty much gives up and lets her daughter live with her choice, and when a colleague of hers comes to the room she just pretends she's an old friend rather than her mother. The colleague assumes Annie was Sarah Jane's Mammy.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: The subplot of Susie developing a crush on Steve and being heartbroken when he and Lora decide to get together is ultimately proved to be pointless - since when Susie and Lora clash, mother and daughter instead argue about how distant Lora has been over the years. Susie even casually says "I'll get over Steve", and the entire plot point is dropped. Notably it was much more prominent in the book where Steve and the daughter ended up together.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • The casual way the movie treats Loomis making advances on Lora. While him propositioning her in the first place is shown as a horrible moment for her, it's forgotten as soon as Lora gets auditions.
    • Steve also tries to control Lora's career decisions which isn't necessarily portrayed as right - but it's hard to imagine such traits being used by a character who's supposed to be sympathetic today.
    • Subverted with the scene of Lora asking Sarah Jane to help her mother serve food, as it's used to show her as Innocently Insensitive. And the following bit of Sarah Jane mimicking an Ethnic Scrappy is shown to be uncalled for.
    • A grown man taking a teenage girl on various dates - even if it's at the wishes of the girl's mother - would look highly suggestive today. Steve is oblivious to Susie's crush on him, not realising the signals he's sending.
  • Values Resonance: The film examines the complexities of mixed race heritage, passing for white and prejudice based on race - in ways that are all very relevant today.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: It's not that Lora is dull; it's just that her arc of juggling Broadway success with family pales in comparison to the more interesting stuff involving Annie and Sarah Jane.
  • Vindicated by History: Considered a forgettable melodrama by critics upon its release, these days it's praised for being daring enough to tackle racial dynamics at the time. Around the time The Help was released, it was even compared more favorably against that.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: Although the film has been Vindicated by History, Susan Kohner's casting is seen less favorably. Even though she's playing a light-skinned black girl, she was only part Mexican - in contrast to Fredi Washington who had played her in the 1934 version. Ability over Appearance doesn't come into play - as she's considered one of the weaker cast members.
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