Posted on April 28, 2016 at 5:20 pm
I tried, Garry Marshall, I really did, but you finally broke me. I did my best to enjoy Valentine’s Day (I called it a tweet of a movie but gave it a B for being mildly entertaining) and New Year’s Eve (I called it a big budget version of the old television series “The Love Boat” and gave it a C, but managed to find some genuinely touching moments). I was fully expecting to find some light entertainment with a galaxy of big stars showing that they can make lackluster material shine a little bit.
So, if “Mother’s Day,” the third in Marshall’s big star/tiny script mash-ups keyed to a holiday, was no worse than the first two, I was determined to give it the benefit of the doubt. I have a mom; I am a mom, I wrote a book about the best movie mothers, and so I’m the prime audience for a bunch of stories about the tenderest and often the most fraught of relationships, mother and child. If it managed to be inoffensive, I would have recommended it. But with this film, Marshall and his inexperienced co-screenwriters cross the tipping point from merely synthetic to downright vile, with apparently no notion of the difference between humor that points out the virulence of bigotry and “jokes” that treat racism and homophobia like just another cutesy personality quirk.
As with the earlier films, there are a lot of characters presenting variations on the theme. But the characters do not even rise to the level of stereotypes and the storylines couldn’t fill a fortune cookie. There is a chasm-sized disconnect between the film’s assumptions about our belief in any of them and its ability to deliver that level of interest. Not one thing is believable even in heightened, glossed-over movie terms. Everyone lives in gorgeous homes and there are no concerns about money. Intrusive product placement gives the film a sleasy infomercial vibe even as it pretends to make fun of home shopping channels hawking cheesy merchandise. Some odd random shots of individuals who have nothing to do with the story are either friends of the filmmaker or evidence that at one time the movie was even worse and got recut. It’s creepy that it takes place in the very diverse city of Atlanta but everyone is white except for the characters whose primary job is to serve as a racial stereotype. Pretty much everyone in the film is a stereotype, but the white ones are not offensive, just dull. The non-white ones are both.
A quick recap of the set-ups — very quick so neither one of us will nod off in stunned boredom. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a single mom with two sons who is upset because her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has married a beautiful young woman. Kristin (Britt Robertson of “Tomorrowland”) loves the father of her baby, an aspiring stand-up comic, but she won’t accept his marriage proposal because she was adopted and thus thinks she does not know who she is. Sisters Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke), who live next door to each other, have not told their bigoted, RV-driving, redneck parents about their spouses — Jesse is married to an Indian-American (Aasif Mandvi) and Gabi is married to a woman (Cameron Esposito). And sad widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has to cope with being a single dad of two daughters. Julia Roberts, in a disastrous orange traffic cone of a hairdo (it’s actually a wig leftover from “Notting Hill”), is also on board as a shopping channel mogul presumably because Garry Marshall gave her her big break in “Pretty Woman” and she will do anything for him.
A series of exposition-heavy introductory scenes (Bradley and his daughters standing at the gravesite: “I can’t believe it’s been a year,” another character explaining, “I have abandonment issues,” Sandy, Jesse, and Gabi helpfully recapping everything that is going on in their lives to each other like the crawl at the bottom of the CNN screen) is followed by a series of micro-complications that fall somewhere between a 6th grade skit and a one-season basic cable sit-com, following by a series of contrived and cloying “resolutions.” The only clunky device left out is words of wisdom from a clown. Oops, no such luck. It’s there. And it’s not over! There are the most lifeless bloopers in the credits in the history of bloopers in the credits.
This is all larded with cornball slapstick wildly outdated “hilarity” that includes a man wearing a woman’s pink silk bathrobe, a man falling off a balcony, a man embarrassed at having to buy tampons for his daughter, a woman with her shirt ripped open holding supposedly professional design presentation model that looks like a third grade diorama, and the same woman getting her arm stuck in a vending machine.
It gets worse. Cops run down a speeding vehicle and make the only non-white character lie down on the ground. It gets resolved when one of the officers recognizes him; the issue of racial profiling is portrayed as a joke. So is a crack about a little person named “Shorty.” The stand-up comic ends up holding his baby and not delivering any jokes during his crucial make-it-or-break-it set, jokes which were not only funny but which might have made it funny and meaningful. Same for this wilted bouquet of a movie. Give Mom breakfast in bed instead.
Parents should know that this film includes discussions of bigotry but also insensitive portrayals of racism and homophobia, brief strong language, sad off-screen death of a parent, family issues about divorce and remarriage, some strong language, and alcohol, including scenes with a baby in a bar.
Family discussion: How did meeting Miranda make Kristen think differently about marriage? What should Jesse have told her parents about her husband?
If you like this, try: “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”