Editor’s Notes: Mother’s Day opens in wide release today, April 29th.
Mother’s Day may be among the most – if not the most – sacred day of the year for countless millions, but for writer-director Garry Marshall it’s just another opportunity to extend the branding exercise he began with Valentine’s Day six years ago and continued with New Year’s Eve a year later. For the third, hopefully last entry in the series, Mother’s Day, Marshall once again plays the ensemble comedy-drama card, pulling A-, B-, and C-list stars from unemployment rolls for a cheaply manipulative, faux-sentimental, superficially progressive film. Even at his relative best (e.g., Pretty Woman), Marshall falls into the vast, anonymous collective of barely competent filmmakers. At his worst (like he is here and has been for the better part of a decade), he delivers a flaccid, style-free, poorly paced effort that suggests he should have retired long ago from the filmmaking business.
Marshall could and should have done better. This weekend, so can moviegoers.
Set in and around an almost unrecognizable Atlanta – unrecognizable because non-Caucasians have been strictly limited to two speaking roles – Mother’s Day doesn’t so much center on several, interrelated characters as drift in and out of their incredibly dull, conflict-free lives. The list of white, privileged characters includes Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorced mother of two and semi-employed interior designer who lives in relative material comfort in an Atlanta suburb, but who still pines for her ex, Henry (Timothy Olyphant). When Henry drops a bombshell – he eloped and married Tina (Shay Mitchell), a twenty-something ex-girlfriend – Sandy goes into an extended sulk. She can barely contain her disappointment at Henry’s decision, let alone the reality of a new stepmother for her children who actually likes, respects, and wants to spend time with them.
Sandy’s group of friends include Jesse (Kate Hudson), and Jesse’s sister, Gabi (Sarah Chalke). Jesse and Gabi live in a bucolic, tree-lined suburb literally across the street from each other. What one or both sisters do to make a living remains one of those ineffable mysteries moviegoers can, but most likely won’t ponder, ad infinitum and ad nauseum. What we do learn, however, is that Jesse is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi), suggesting she’s a stay-at-home mom with an almost endless supply of free time, and that Gabi is married to Max (Carmen Esposito). They both have sons too. Even worse, they share unrepentant racist, homophobic parents, Flo (Margo Martindale) and Earl (Robert Pine). In one of the many clichéd subplots Marshall and his inexplicably large screenwriting team borrow from 1996, Flo and Earl make an unscheduled appearance in Jesse and Gabi’s lives, setting off a non-farcical interlude of miscommunication and misunderstandings before the non-climactic third act resolves their conflict in a group hug.
Mother’s Day doesn’t so much center on several, interrelated characters as drift in and out of their incredibly dull, conflict-free lives.
That’s not all, of course. Another subplot involves a twenty-something mother, Kristin (Britt Robertson), who refuses to marry her longtime boyfriend, Zack (Jack Whitehall), a bartender by day, wannabe stand-up comedian by night. Her refusal to accept his proposal turns on her longstanding desire to meet her birth mother (she’s adopted). What Zack’s marriage proposal and her birth mother have to do with one another also remains a mystery Marshall and his screenwriters refuse to solve. Yet another, wince-inducing subplot involves Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), a widower with two daughters, facing his first Mother’s Day without his late wife (Jennifer Garner, ignominiously relegated to a brief video cameo). A home-shopping personality, Miranda (Julia Roberts), lingers at the margins, appearing in the background on occasion, meeting with Sandy’s interior designer in one comedy-free scene, and later serving as an object lesson that women should never choose their careers over marriage and motherhood.
It’s not a particularly progressive idea, but then again, little is about Mother’s Day. It’s easy to imagine Marshall and his screenwriting team high-fiving each other in the writing room when they came up with interracial and lesbian relationships (yay for progress) and combined them with awful racist and homophobic parents (from Texas, no less). Before long, though, those racist, homophobic parents turn the proverbial corner, embracing their newfound 21st-century family without a hint of negativity or bitterness. To borrow a line from the Beatles song, “Love is all you need” to make the world a better, more accepting, more welcoming place. Of course, that better, more accepting place has only a limited role for people of color, primarily as comic relief or conduits for the other privileged white characters to become better people. If that’s progress, we need to sit down and have a long talk. Marshall could and should have done better. This weekend, so can moviegoers.
For the third, hopefully last entry in the series, Mother’s Day, Marshall once again plays the ensemble comedy-drama card, pulling A-, B-, and C-list stars from unemployment rolls for a cheaply manipulative, faux-sentimental, superficially progressive film.