From the beginning, Rob Marshall’s unlikely trilogy has felt more like a stampeding relative than an opportunity for a mushy family reunion. Seemingly compiled from a list of potential blackmail victims, Marshall’s cast lists have been both unusually stacked and completely catch-all, attempting to pander to any audience possible within an inch of its cinematic life. That’s the only way to explain a series that’s included dizzying coagulations like Robert De Niro and Alyssa Milano, or Taylor Swift and George Lopez.
Coming five years after the last installment, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day is another unwanted confection, but it’s less aggressively terrible than it is consistently misguided in its attempts to meld stories together of racism, loss, identity and the anxiety of having children who do what human beings do: grow up. In its worst moments, Mother’s Day feels like giving your mom a box of open, leftover Valentine’s Day chocolates—it’s stale, perfunctory and a gesture that’s entirely lost its meaning.
Made up of four separate but interlocking storylines, Mother’s Day can barely tangentially relate its pieces, lodging together four stories united by bad taste, pushy sentiments and a willingness to leave actual narrative progression to Mad Libs rather than to the creativity of its three credited screenwriters.
The most egregious by far, and the segment that will receive the most post-release condemnation, strands Kate Hudson, Sarah Chalke, Cameron Esposito, Aasif Mandvi and Margo Martindale in a more socially stunted context than Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. As sisters who moved to Georgia from Texas, Gabi (Chalke) and Jesse (Hudson) have long kept their personal lives—their respective relationships with a woman and Indian man—secret from their parents to avoid their bigoted barbs. Introduced chomping on chicken wings and wearing hats that say things like “not my America,” their father (Robert Pine) is a blue-blooded red state zealot whose fashion sense is the only thing more dated than his ideas, while their mother (Martindale) is equally prone to saying things like your child is too dark, and questioning basic biological impulses.
Mother’s Day’s identity politics involving anyone who’s not a straight WASP are the nuanced equivalent of “I have a gay/black/Indian friend,” allowing both a parade of stomach churning gags and a “genuine” interest in resolving those deep-seated issues with a bow and a belly laugh. What qualifies as a joke in Mother’s Day are characters yelling cliches or racist things at each other.
The other storylines are less actively terrible than just distressingly familiar. Jennifer Aniston is forced into her usual Sisyphean Hollywood role, trading her recent number of nymphomaniac performances for a doting mother worried about losing her two boys to forces beyond her control. A home decorator, Sandy is constantly tripping over her own laces and agonizing over the new, tight-cut-clothing-wearing, social-media-gaga wife (Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell) of her ex-husband. It’s all an obnoxious mask for a story about moving forward after a rut.
As far as the audience is concerned, Sandy’s equally known for her embarrassing run-ins with Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), the type of brooding, pacified nice guy who could have easily doubled as a serial killer. But here, he’s just the overclocked single father who struggles with words like “tampons” and the grief of losing his wife overseas. Everything involving Bradley’s widow hits with the subtlety of a sledgehammer as the daughter delivers lines like “Mom was never late to practice” with thudding regularity.
Elsewhere, there’s barmaid Kristin (Britt Robertson) and struggling comic Zack (Fresh Meat’s Jack Whitehall), a late-20s couple nursing a new baby and fighting over Kristin’s cold feet about marriage (caused by internalized adoption issues). Zack, another perpetual nice guy, is so wracked with anxiety about Kristin’s reluctance to get married that his stand-up routine is mostly just exposition delivered into a mic for fifteen minutes.
Miranda (Julia Robert), a Joy Mangano-style magnate is nothing more than a presence that hovers over the stink, delivering her lines with her patented soothing cool, a wig and animatronic body language that suggest she’s either auditioning for a Run Lola Run sequel or the next Terminator. It doesn’t seem accidental that her arc is rushed to the point where her character says things like “let’s hurry this along” during moments where that’s entirely inappropriate.
In fact, for being nearly two hours, this type of relentless pacing is typical of Mother’s Day, a movie that spends every waking second on “plot,” and yet feels terribly meandering. Marshall partly has no idea how to wrangle these ideas into something resembling a piece, settling for choppy editing and the thin holiday framing device, but these characters barely exist outside of their respective conflicts. And yet, Mother’s Day is strangely automatic, to the point where even the worst scenes are over in a moment’s notice. Even the filmmakers seem determined to make a bee line for the credits.
At one point, a character walks in on two other characters cuddling. It’s deeply surprising, not because we didn’t know these two characters were together, but because the moment demonstrates that these characters actually do have something approaching a physical warmth. It’s the most human moment in the entire movie.
Director: Garry Marshall
Writers: Tom Hines, Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Shay Mitchell, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Kate Hudson, Sarah Chalke, Cameron Esposito, Jack Whitehall, Aasif Mandvi, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner, Lucy Walsh, Jon Lovitz, etc. etc. etc.
Release Date: April 29, 2016