Mildred Pierce (2011)
Glendale, California, 1931: Mildred Pierce, a young mother with a talent for baking, is left a "grass widow" after throwing her husband, Bert, out of the house. Forced to hunt for work to support herself and her two young daughters, 11-year-old Veda and seven-year-old Ray, Mildred visits an employment agency, only to encounter job opportunities she feels are beneath her. Amidst her job search, she receives dating advice from her friend and neighbor, Lucy Gessler, and begins an unexpected affair with an ex-business partner of her husband's, Wally Burgan. When Mildred receives a call from the agency regarding an opening as a housekeeper to a wealthy socialite, she reluctantly agrees to meet with her. After cutting the acerbic interview short, Mildred seeks refuge at a local diner, Cristofor's Café, where fate, and a waitress named Ida, will play a role in shaping her future.
Divorced single mom Mildred Pierce decides to open a restaurant business, which tears at the already-strained relationship with her ambitious elder daughter, Veda.
- Mildred Pierce (Kate Winslet) is a housewife in Glendale, California in 1931. She and husband Bert (Brian F. OByrne) have two young daughters, Veda (Morgan Turner) and Moire, or "Ray" (Quinn McColgan). Bert had been a fairly successful home developer, but is now unemployed due to the Great Depression. Mildred makes extra money by selling baked goods to neighbors, including her friend Lucy (Melissa Leo), who praise her culinary skills. Her relationship with Bert ends in separation after it is revealed that he had been unfaithful, but Mildred does not tell the children the details of their father's absence.
With the economy suffering, Mildred begins a harrowing job hunt. She visits an employment agency but finds that, like many female applicants, her skills as a homemaker and her typing ability will not land her any work. She does get referred to a wealthy woman (Hope Davis) who is engaged to a prominent film director and is looking for a housekeeper. Mildred attends the interview, but is put off by the woman's blatantly entitled attitude and declines the job. Stopping at a café for lunch, Mildred witnesses a public scuffle when one of the waitresses is caught stealing tips from her colleague's station. The owner of the restaurant (Mark Margolis) fires the two arguing waitresses for fighting in front of the customers, and Mildred timidly goes to the kitchen to inquire about a job opening. While the staff is still flustered, they agree that they need an extra waitress and decide to give Mildred a chance. While at first too nervous to be an efficient server, Mildred learns from a seasoned waitress, Ida (Mare Winningham), who teaches her crucial tricks and details of the job. Mildred soon flourishes and becomes a significant asset to the restaurant by contributing her own pies to the menu, which bring in extra money and raves from the customers. Mildred is relieved to be bringing home a paycheck, but is terrified that her daughters will be ashamed of her if they find out her occupation.
Mildred's eldest daughter, 11-year-old Veda, is incredibly proper and ambitious and strives to speak and act in an almost obnoxiously mature manner. Despite her own middle-class upbringing, she is disgusted by people and lifestyles that she perceives to be "common," and Mildred harbors a fear of Veda's harsh judgment. The younger daughter, 8-year-old Ray, is a typical happy and lively child who adores her family. Though things are strained between Mildred and Bert, they get along for the sake of the children. Mildred enters a brief affair with Bert's friend and associate Wally Bergan (James LeGros), and shares with him her tentative idea of starting her own chicken restaurant. Wally says she should run with it, if she could ultimately prove that the business would be profitable.
Veda has suspicions about Mildred's occupation, and discovers the waitress uniform while snooping in her mother's room. She indirectly confronts Mildred by ordering their maid, Letty (Marin Ireland), to wear the uniform, telling Mildred she assumed it was intended for the maid. Mildred has no choice but to confess, and Veda shamelessly insults her. The argument heats up, and Mildred slaps and spanks her daughter. She then reveals her restaurant plan and makes the excuse that she had only taken the waitress job to learn the trade from the bottom up. Veda seemingly apologizes. Mildred's intense yet fearful relationship with Veda becomes clear. Though Mildred constantly endures Veda's emotional abuse and lies, she desperately scrambles to give the girl everything she wants for fear of losing her love.
Mildred eventually locks down a piece of real estate for her restaurant, and when things are nearly up and running, she happily embarks on her last day as a humble waitress. At work, and in an upbeat mood, she converses with a dashing customer, Monty Beragon (Guy Pierce), a polo player with a fruit business and a casual, high-end lifestyle. He is charmed by Mildred's wit, and invites her to go to the beach with him that very day. With her daughters on vacation with Bert, Mildred indulges her impulse and goes on an outing with Monty that ends in intimacy. When he drops her off at home, Mildred is met by a frantic neighbor who reports that when Bert and the girls returned from vacation, Ray had become seriously ill and was taken to the hospital when they found that Mildred was not at home. Mildred rushes to the hospital and is relieved that the doctors had stabilized Ray for the moment, but is devastated when Ray's condition suddenly plummets and the doctors are unable to save her. Bert and Mildred mourn the loss of their little girl. To combat her grief, Mildred puts every ounce of her energy and focus into developing her restaurant. On opening night, a surprisingly large crowd shows up, including Bert, Veda, Ida, and Monty. The service is quickly stretched to the limit, and Ida takes over the kitchen and gets things running smoothly again. The night winds down, and Monty bonds with Veda before seducing Mildred again at her home.
Taking Wally's advice, Mildred divorces Bert to improve her financial standing for her business. As Mildred's relationship with Monty progresses, he becomes more and more dependent on her income. His fruit business goes belly-up, and he begins to refer to himself as Mildred's "paid gigolo." Mildred takes offense to his crude remarks, but is attached to the sexual relationship. Meanwhile, Mildred is putting extensive time and money into music lessons and equipment for Veda, who is a budding concert pianist. Now fourteen, Veda becomes more and more spoiled, arrogant and manipulative. She becomes strangely close with Monty, and thinks nothing of being outright insulting to her mother. Mildred still holds a desperate attachment to her daughter and believes there is good in her, despite the barbs she endures from Veda's behavior. Fed up, she leaves Monty and puts even more energy into making Veda happy, as well as opening new restaurants with the help of Ida, Lucy and Wally.
A few years later, 17-year-old Veda (now Evan Rachel Wood) is being trained as a professional opera singer. Mildred's business takes a sudden financial blow, and her accountants point out that it is Veda's spending that is causing the damage. Mildred frantically defends her daughter, and continues to furnish Veda's lifestyle despite the expense. Veda and Mildred have a turbulent and bipolar relationship. Veda is living at home, but is constantly out with her reckless wealthy friends whom she only keeps for their connections to prominent media figures. A wealthy woman, Mrs. Forrester, visits Mildred, who is shocked to see that it is the same woman who had interviewed her for the housekeeping job years ago. Mrs. Forrester does not recognize Mildred from the incident, but delivers the news that her son, Sammy, had been seeing Veda exclusively (mainly because Mr. Forrester is a well-known film director and Veda had expressed an interest in acting) and that Veda was firmly and dramatically insisting that they marry. Mildred is taken aback, and confronts Veda later that night. Veda insinuates that she is pregnant, but later reveals that she had lied in order to claim money from the Forrester's attorneys that would allow her to leave Glendale and her mother forever. She nastily expresses her loathing for Mildred's "pie wagons" and "everything that smells of grease." Enraged, Mildred throws her out of the house, but immediately regrets it.
Veda moves into an apartment and continues her singing instruction, soon becoming a celebrated soprano. Despite the busy schedule her restaurants demand, Mildred's main focus is to win Veda's love. Knowing Veda's fondness for Monty, Mildred reunites with him and buys his family estate to construct a more extravagant lifestyle that Veda might approve of. Mildred and Monty marry, though their happiness is short-lived. Mildred's business begins to suffer on account of her expensive living, and she is in danger of losing control of her restaurant franchise. She confesses to Bert that she had been embezzling money from the restaurants to lure Veda back home. To Mildred's delight, Veda finally comes home. She and Mildred share a tearful reunion, with Veda apologizing profusely for her previous behavior. Veda's singing talent had bought her fame and business offers, and she is preparing for a widely-advertised one-woman opera concert. Veda, Monty, and Mildred bond over the preparation for the show, designing Veda's elaborate costume and inviting friends and family to attend. On the night of the show, Mildred is paralyzed with emotion as she watches her daughter sing in front of a massive audience, ending with a song that she used to sing with Mildred as a little girl. Mildred takes the gesture as an olive branch from Veda and finally begins to have hope for the future.
Still in debt, Mildred determines that she must borrow money from her now-wealthy daughter. She cannot find Veda in the house, and goes to Monty's room to ask if he had seen her. Monty refuses to open the door and behaves very nervously. Mildred forces the door open and sees Veda, stark naked, in Monty's bed. Veda sneers at her mother, gloating that she and Monty had planned to dupe Mildred all along. Mildred, blinded by fury, attacks Veda and nearly chokes her to unconsciousness. Veda claims that her vocal chords are damaged as a result, and she has lost her ability to sing. Her singing contract is nullified.
Mildred hastily moves to Nevada in order to divorce Monty as quickly as possible. Still without the money to keep her restaurant chain, she leaves it to Ida, who had been a strong pillar of support over the years. She and Bert, who had re-bonded during the Veda debacle, remarry and move in together once more. They are taken aback when Veda confronts her parents, accompanied with reporters, to reconcile with Mildred in order to lessen the damage her relationship with Monty had done to her reputation. Mildred accepts the staged apology, but several months later Veda returns with the news that she is moving to New York City with Monty, and that her vocal chord injury was a ploy so she could be freed from her previous singing contract and obtain a better one. As Veda prepares to leave in a taxi, Mildred shouts at her to never come back. Bert calms her down, finally allowing Mildred to accept that Veda does not deserve her mother's support. Mildred and Bert proceed to drink, and prepare for the next chapter of their lives.