John Cusack as Roy Dillon, swaggering con man with mommy issues
Phoenix and Los Angeles, Summer 1990
Film: The Grifters
Release Date: December 5, 1990
Director: Stephen Frears
Costume Designer: Richard Hornung
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
At seventeen going on eighteen, Roy Dillon had left home. He took nothing with him but the clothes he wore—clothes he had bought and paid for himself. He took no money but the little in the pockets of his clothes, and that too he had earned.
He wanted nothing from Lilly. She had given him nothing when he needed it, when he was too small to get for himself, and he wasn’t letting her into the game at this late date.
He had no contact with her during the first six months he was away. Then, at Christmas time, he sent her a card, and on Mother’s Day he sent her another. Both were of the gooey sentimental type, dripping with sickly sweetness, but the latter was a real dilly. Hearts and flowers and fat little angels swarmed over it in an insanely hilarious montage. The engraved message was dedicated to Dear Old Mom, and it gushed tearfully of goodnight kisses and platters and pitchers of oven-fresh cookies and milk when a little boy came in from play.
You would have thought that Dear Old Mom (God bless her silvering hair) had been the proprietor of a combination dairy-bakery, serving no customer but her own little tyke (on his brand-new bike).
He was laughing so hard when he sent it that he almost botched up the address. But afterward, he had some sobering second thoughts. Perhaps the joke was on him, yes? Perhaps by gibing at her he was revealing a deep and lasting hurt, admitting that she was tougher than he. And that, naturally, wouldn’t do. He’d taken everything she had to hand out, and it hadn’t made a dent in him. He damned well mustn’t ever let it think it had.
— Jim Thompson, The Grifters, Chapter 5
Reading this passage from one of my favorite pulp novelists inspired today’s Mother’s Day post, by way of Jim Thompson’s acid pen translated onto the screen.
Nominated for four Academy Awards, Stephen Frears’ slick 1990 neo-noir The Grifters joins Psycho (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) in a cinematic fraternity of twisted depictions of mother-son relationships, represented by short-con operator Roy Dillon (John Cusack) and his estranged mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston), a fellow swindler who has long been in service to sadistic bookie Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle) and eventually requires resources from her son to make her clean getaway:
I gave you your life twice. I’m asking you to give me mine once.
Roy and Lilly’s reunion is complicated by Roy’s hustler girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who schemes to remove the domineering matriarch as an obstacle to partnering with Roy. Continue reading