• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #225: Momma Lift


"Owen!!"

The night was humid.


Most probably recall Anne Ramsey from her performance as Mama Fratelli in The Goonies, but I prefer her as Momma Lift in the dark, hilarious Throw Momma from the Train. A 1987 vehicle starring Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito (who also directed), the film follows a frustrated writer named Larry (Crystal) obsessed with the betrayal of his ex-wife, who who became a sensation with his stolen manuscript. While teaching aspiring writers at a community college, Larry encounters simple, sheltered Owen Lift (DeVito). When Larry encourages Owen to turn to Hitchcock for writing inspiration, Owen absorbs the lessons of Strangers on a Train a little too well. He sort-of kills Larry's ex-wife, and then claims Larry is obligated to kill Owen's monstrous, overbearing mother in return.


Enter Momma Lift. She's a shuffling, shambling she-demon with Ramsey's trademark garbled lisp (a result of partial tongue and jaw removal for esophageal cancer in 1984), and she treats Owen with unrelenting cruelty and emotional abuse. She's an absolute peach. Sure, the byplay between Larry and Owen is funny, as Crystal and DeVito unsurprisingly display outstanding comedic timing and on-screen chemistry (the "you lied to me!" frying-pan assault remains to this day one of the funniest things I've ever seen), but it's Momma's biting nastiness that really makes this movie work. She tramples on Owen's self-esteem, berates innocent bystanders, and generally treats the world around her like a litter box. As Larry observes after taking her cane to the crotch, "That's not a woman. That's the Terminator." A couple of my favorite lines:


Momma: Who the hell are you?

Larry: I'm Owen's friend.

Momma: Owen doesn't have a friend!

Larry: That's because he's shy.

Momma: No he's not. He's fat and he's stupid!


Owen: And I'm gonna be a writer someday.

Momma: You know how that typing upsets me!

Owen: I'm sorry, Momma. A writer writes.

Momma: You're gonna be nothing. You're gonna be nothing. You'll never get to first base. All you do is type, type, type, type, type, type. You sit there typing all day like a fat little pigeon.


And the best, as she careens through the casino car on the train where folks enjoy a little gambling..."Bingo bastards."


Rest in peace, Anne Ramsey. Thanks for the laughs.

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