Directed by: Garry Marshall
Premise: A network of families and friends cope with parenthood in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.
What Works: There are many faults to Mother’s Day but the flaws of this movie aren’t the fault of the actors. Everyone is doing what they can with what they’ve been given and a few of the actors are able to elevate the material. In particular, Britt Robertson is effective as a young woman with commitment issues and Jason Sudeikis impresses as a widower raising two daughters. These plotlines have the kernels of stories that could have been expanded into much better movies.
What Doesn’t: Mother’s Day is a part of a larger trend of multi-narrative romantic comedies such as He’s Just Not That Into You, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and Love the Coopers. Director Garry Marshall has been one of the chief culprits behind this trend, churning out titles such as Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. With a few exceptions, this niche of motion pictures is terrible but Mother’s Day takes the badness to a whole new level and magnifies the most annoying qualities of these films. For starters, there’s virtually no story despite the fact that the movie features about half a dozen plotlines. A few of the narratives have compelling set ups: Jennifer Aniston plays a divorcee who’s ex-husband has remarried, Kate Hudson and Aasif Mandvi are an interracial couple who must cope with the wife’s racist parents, and Jason Sudeikis is cast as a widower raising two daughters. These aren’t bad ideas for a movie but upon introducing the characters, the filmmakers leap from story to story, establishing other conflicts, then returning to thrust the characters into crisis, only to depart again and conclude the plotline without actually resolving anything. This is beneath even the dregs of sitcom writing. But to add insult to injury, the moviemakers take serious issues and trivialize them. This is a movie about a grieving father, a lonely divorced mother, and an interracial couple who are estranged from their parents. Mother’s Day takes those conflicts and serves them up for cheap, uninspired laughs; every conflict is insultingly simplistic, squeezed for lame jokes, and then resolved in the most idiotic way. Worst is the interracial couple. The parents are trailer trash stereotypes who utter racist and homophobic remarks and the filmmakers clearly think that the older couple is somehow adorable in their bigotry. On a related topic, Mother’s Day is also distressingly white and classist. It’s perfectly fine to tell stories of all white casts or stories about wealthy people or even movies of all white casts playing wealthy characters. But when a film has a scope as wide as Mother’s Day and takes place in Atlanta, which has one of the largest African American populations in the United States, but there’s only two actors of color in the entire movie (and both in minor supporting roles), that’s a far more pernicious case of white washing than other, more criticized titles. There’s also the economic angle to the movie’s failure. This is one of those Hollywood movies that is so out of touch with its own economic privilege that it becomes a first-word-problems picture in which wealthy characters suffer through contrived conflicts. Mother’s Day’s superficiality extends beyond the story and this is a film whose economic calculations are transparent. A movie like this follows as simple boilerplate: adopt a holiday for the title and then cram a bunch of actors into it to capitalize on their marquee value. This isn’t about telling a story. It’s about assembling parts that can be arranged on the one-sheet and cut together for the trailer. The actors aren’t asked to do anything and (assuming they read the script) they must know the movie is a dog. As a result, Mother’s Day comes across as a cynical cash grab by everyone involved.
Bottom Line: Mother’s Day is not to be understood as a piece of art. It’s an industrial product that was conceived around a marketing concept and manufactured to fill an empty slot on a Hollywood studio release slate. The filmmakers haven’t made a piece of entertainment. It doesn’t appear that they even tried. Mother’s Day is simultaneously lazy and obnoxious.
Episode: #593 (May 8, 2016)