Garry Marshall is one step closer to completing his plan to dominate the cinematic world of holiday movies. Following Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, MOTHER’S DAY is the Pretty Woman director’s latest calendar-centric rom-com. And if you’ve seen either of the first two films, there’s little that will come as a surprise this time around: a huge cast, multiple plotlines with tenuous connections, neatly tied up endings, and most importantly, Hector Elizondo. And it feels as though there wasn’t the slightest amount of effort put into it. Each character is a cliché of a feel-good, rom-com universe where real people don’t actually exist. There are jokes, character arcs, and lines of dialogue we’ve seen and heard hundreds of times; it’s hard to imagine even the most easily amused of viewers not finding themselves bored throughout Mother’s Day.
Four storylines dominate the film. The first involves Jennifer Aniston as Sandy, recently divorced from Henry (Timothy Olyphant), and the ping-ponging of their two sons. Unbeknownst to Sandy, Henry has remarried a much younger woman named Tina (Shay Mitchell). This ‘secret’ is especially strange since it’s suggested several times that Sandy and Henry are great pals despite the divorce. Most of the Sandy’s storyline deals with her trying to cope with the fact that Henry married such a young girl, and how it is ruining her life. Hearing things from Tina like “Tweet me if you need anything,” is tantamount to some kind of hate-speech, according to the movie. Even more bizarre is how much Henry wants the kids to spend half of Mother’s Day with Tina, despite being married for less than a year. In what world would a person argue against letting his kids spend Mother’s Day with their biological mom, that it would really mean a lot to his new wife if she got to spend the day with two boys she barely knows? Instead of finding a real conflict for the two sides of the family, the film manufactures a laughably unrealistic one.
Next we have Julia Roberts as Miranda, a successful author and Home Shopping Network celebrity. Throughout the film she attempts to hawk mood necklaces for mothers. As it turns out, despite claiming to be childless, Miranda actually does have a daughter, Kristin (Britt Robertson). Because Miranda gave her up for adoption, Kristin has abandonment issues, and somehow due to this refuses to marry the father of her own child. In one of the film’s stranger digressions, we are treated to an interlude featuring Kristen’s struggling comedian boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) as he tells terrible jokes in a comedy club owned by a small dog-toting Jon Lovitz. When a movie’s boldest choice is to have Jon Lovitz carry around a dog, that movie has some issues.
Jason Sudeikis also steps up to bat as a single father, Bradley, trying to cope with the loss of his wife. His two daughters act out whilst he mopes, and by act out, I mean one of them starts dating a skinny redheaded boy. This storyline is the one where we’re forced to endure two of the most tired, overused gags in existence. First, Bradley’s older daughter asks her father to pick up tampons at the store. Since he’s a man, and men get grossed out by periods, Bradley, of course, freaks out and refuses to even write the full word on his shopping list. The second is ‘the price check’ joke. Again, we have to operate on the assumption that tampons are embarrassing and unnatural items to be purchasing (they are not), and furthermore, that cashiers actually ask for price checks over the loudspeaker (they do not). Maybe I’ve been shopping at all the wrong places in my life, but when an item needs a price check, the cashier uses a walkie-talkie to ask another individual working in that department. Again, Mother’s Day shows us that it only operates by movie cliché standards, and not real world rules.
Finally we’ve got the ‘intolerant parents from Texas’ storyline. Margo Martindale and Robert Pine play parents to Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke). Jesse has married an Indian man with whom she’s had a child, and Gabi is a lesbian. Both acts are kept secret from the parents, and with good reason. They’re both unbelievably, blatantly racist and homophobic, in addition to every other stereotype you can think of for an old fashioned Southern couple. This particular storyline is the most uncomfortable, and not for good reasons. Calling out and confronting prejudices and bigots is commendable, but Mother’s Day has this pair of hateful people saying awful things, and presenting it to the audience as a punch line. The film, hopefully, wants to condemn such behavior, but it doesn’t come off that way at all. When the dad calls her husband a towelhead, it’s played for laughs, as if the audience is invited to take the dad’s viewpoint.
To say things don’t end in a nice, neat bow for each character would be the understatement of the year. One could reliably guess the outcome of each storyline after spending a minute with each character. Probably less. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make an easygoing, feel-good film. But Mother’s Day manages to stretch itself even by those standards. Between the clichés, predictability, tired jokes, and caricatures, this movie is less meaningful than a 99 -cent greeting card. And yet it’s probably only be a matter of time before Garry Marshall announces Memorial Day, Boxing Day, and National Cheesecake Day.
I give Mother’s Day 1.5 Hector Elizondos out of 5.
Score: 1.5 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor