The Internet does not lack content. Quality content, garbage content, bewildering content, inspiring content, you name it. So why can’t I find any tributes to Bonnie Hunt? In fact, why is the Internet not flooded with paeans to this lovely, radiant, hilarious, and immensely talented actress who has delighted children and adults alike with her work in “Beethoven,” “Dave,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” all those Pixar movies, and more?
Mother’s Day offers a fitting opportunity to rectify this wrong. Why? Because Bonnie is more than simply a wonderful actress. Much more. In my humble but earnest opinion, she’s nothing less than the greatest “movie mom” of all time.
If Bonnie’s role in the “Beethoven” movies were the only entry on her mom resume, I’m not sure that would affect her GOAT status. If you haven’t seen “Beethoven” recently, go watch it. See for yourself how Bonnie pours humor, sincerity, and big-heartedness into a character that feels so down-to-earth and real yet still excels at the main task of entertaining you. It’s not a middle ground that’s easy for an actor or actress to find, but it’s right where Bonnie thrives. She’s the queen of “slice-of-life” comedy.
Take the scene early on in “Beethoven” when Bonnie, as Alice Newton, gently admonishes one of her daughters: “Don’t say ‘sucks,’ honey.” It lasts all of one second, but it’s a pitch-perfect mom moment. I mean, pitch-perfect. You can just hear your own mother or someone else’s using the exact same tone to express the exact same sentiment. It’s funny because it rings so true.
Bonnie also delivers the goods as a mama bear, like when she sends Lady Marmalade the Babysitter packing. (“What these children need is their mother.”*) Or when she stealthily administers backwash into David Duchovny’s lemonade after his character’s smarminess reaches comically intolerable levels.** She has no time for phoniness or pretension.
Bonnie makes you smile, and she keeps it real. She serves up movie magic, and reminds you of your own life. One doesn’t come at the expense of the other. Her ability to straddle that line is a splendid gift.
It’s a gift that didn’t go unused after the successes of “Beethoven” and “Beethoven’s 2nd” in the early ‘90s. Bonnie subsequently portrayed mothers in productions like “Now and Then,” “Stolen Summer,” and the “Cheaper by the Dozen” movies*** as well as the sitcom “Life with Bonnie.” She brought the same charm, love-of-family, and comedic flair to those roles (and, in the case of “Now and Then,” a rare flavor of caricature).
Even in non-mom movies like “Jerry Maguire” and “The Green Mile,” there are still obvious maternal elements to her characters. It’s not by accident that her body of work consists of these parts. It’s because she’s the best in the biz at playing moms.
(Sidenote about “Jerry Maguire:” In a movie that’s known for showy, personality-heavy performances, Bonnie steals almost every scene she’s in with her understated brand of comedy and thoroughgoing realness. Even as a secondary character, she outshines Tom Cruise in several scenes by playing it straight and not going for too much. It’s a thing of beauty. No matter how big or small the role is, Bonnie always summons her A-game.)
In real life, Bonnie seems just as likable. Watch a few of her appearances on late-night TV over the years. Or watch clips from her talk show that ran from 2008 to 2010. What you’ll encounter is someone with an energetic flair for storytelling, slinging jokes, and flirting. She’s a riot.
This is especially true when she sits down with her longtime friend David Letterman.**** Whenever she unleashes her razor-sharp wit or flashes that effervescent smile or compares George W. Bush to Johnny Carson (which, I have to believe, no one else in human history has ever done, let alone contemplated), Letterman eats it up. He can’t suppress his delight. If you’re able to win over Dave like that, it means you’re blessed with special qualities.
What accounts for these special qualities and this ability to be brilliantly entertaining and yet still so grounded and relatable? If you asked Bonnie, she would probably point to her upbringing (Chicago-born and bred, blue-collar, Irish-Catholic, one of seven kids) or certain formative experiences that endowed her with wisdom and perspective (the death of her father when she was young, her pre-Hollywood career as a nurse,***** maybe her time at Second City).
Then there’s Alice Hunt, Bonnie’s mother, who comes up frequently in interviews and sounds like an absolute legend. The way Bonnie tells it, Alice was (and remains) a veritable fount of comedic material and inspiration. She was, in effect, Bonnie’s acting and writing school.
When you blend all of these ingredients together with natural-born talent and the necessary drive, what you get is someone like Bonnie, someone who has blazed trails and starred opposite Tom Hanks and Steve Martin but would probably rather chat about her family or her beloved Cubs.
So, on this Mother’s Day, here’s to you, Bonnie Hunt. Thank you for the laughs. Thank you for being the realest. Thank you for giving back. And thank you for Alice Newton, Kate Baker, Margaret O’Malley, and the rest. I’ll say it again: Bonnie Hunt is the greatest movie mom of all time!
*The Washington Post knocked “Beethoven” for being anti-feminist.
**David Duchovny and Patricia Heaton both killed it as those yuppie monstrosities in “Beethoven.”
***It’s hard to imagine a more “Regis Philbin moment” than in “Cheaper by the Dozen” when he tells Bonnie’s character that he finds her “yummy.” The two go great together.
**** Bonnie has even guest-hosted for Letterman.
*****To this day, Bonnie is still active in the medical field. She’s a volunteer patient advocate.