Jennifer Garner is a proud and loving mother to three children. No surprise, she loves playing moms in films. “I love playing a mom because there are no higher stakes than something involving your kids. Nothing will push you further,” she had once said. After a fair number of stints at television series, Garner made a return in Shawn Levy’s 2022 film The Adam Project which went on to become one of Netflix’s most-watched films. Garner played the mother to Ryan Reynolds who travels back in time to team up with his younger self (Walker Scobell) and seek certain answers from his late father.
While Garner did a brilliant job of playing a distressed mother who is reeling under the shock of losing her husband and having a hard time grieving while dealing with a moody teenager, the whole aspect of Garner now being considered for such typecast roles raises questions regarding the various stereotypical roles for actresses in the industry.
Jennifer Garner is known for quite a few films like 13 Going on 30, Elektra, Daredevil, Juno, Valentine’s Day etc. Her performance in Dallas Buyers Club won her a SAG nomination before which she began appearing more often in family comedies. Once Garner started playing the parent figure, it seemed like Hollywood did not have any role for her in other genres. From films like Yes Day and Love, Simon to HBO shows like Camping, Garner seems to have fit the bill of motherhood to play the figure. And she ticks all the boxes that the inherently patriarchal domain needs to witness- she is warm, kind and nurturing and nothing like Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley from The Lost Daughter. While the latter actresses are “unnatural” mothers, Garner is the cool and caring mom that everyone loves. However, while Colman and Buckley are considered pariahs for the lack of attachment to their daughters, they, too, suffer from the same kind of anxieties as Garner’s character.
Even in The Adam Project, Garner’s character is pretty giving. In a rare, heartwarming and tender moment shared by garner and an adult Reynolds- Garner is oblivious to the fact that Reynolds is the grown-up version of her son- she lays bare her frustration and vulnerabilities. While she goes on a whole rant about how babies are “pure love” but then grow into teenagers who are “assassins of happiness”, she quickly resorts to the age-old dilemma where she questions whether she is a “good mother”. Reynolds is quick to lay her fears at rest when he sincerely assures her. While this might be a crucial point in Adam’s redemptive arc in the film, the conversation also raises questions regarding the idea of ideal motherhood. Here is Garner’s character, Ellie, a widow, trying to mourn her husband’s death while dealing with a cranky son but she still doubts herself and her capabilities.
However, the question remains- has Hollywood consciously typecast Garner into such roles or has it always been a choice? While the actress is quite vocal about her love for such roles, we cannot ignore how women are often compelled to be a part of stifling compartmentalisation right after they give birth or reach a certain age; it is almost like the film industry, in its patriarchal glory, thrusts upon them the perfect age and time to transition from one kind of role to another. While actors have the privilege to escape the same, women are expected to play certain kinds of gender roles, even now. While Jennifer Garner has not yet announced new projects yet, we are sure that the next film or series will see her as a mother yet again. However, what we do want to see is an exemplified version of Ellie in a film that solely revolves around the central mother figure and records her trials and tribulations instead of pushing her to the sidelines and typecasting her as a supporting character.
Only then can the genius of Garner be thoroughly examined once again and only then can we say that The Adam Project had in store for Garner something better than just numbers and revenue!