“Mother’s Day” is the kind of movie I feared “The Meddler” would be, a formulaic comedy filled with overused stereotypes and cinematic traps filmmakers easily fall victim to. But even though it was directed by Garry Marshall who is well known for overdoing sentimentality in his films, nothing prepared me for how cloying and utterly contrived this movie ended up being. It’s like a network sitcom that never made it pass the pilot but somehow got turned into a movie for no discernable reason. Having already laid waste to New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, Marshall shows no hesitation in unintentionally belittling another holiday, and one with much more meaning than others.
The movie starts, of course, a few days before Mother’s Day which allows us to meet a group of people who at first have little if any connection with one another, but we know that’s going to change from the get go. There’s single mother Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) who’s raising her two young boys while her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) spends time with his new wife Tina (Shay Mitchell) who looks like she has yet to reach the age of 30. Next we have successful book writer Miranda (Julia Roberts) who we see selling jewelry on television and is dedicated to her career more than anything else. Then there is Kristin (Britt Robertson) who lives with her boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) and their baby girl. Zack is an aspiring comedian who longs to marry Kristin, but she feels she is not ready to commit for reasons that soon become clear. And let’s not forget Jesse (Kate Hudson), wife to Indian doctor Russell (Aasif Mandvi) who knows that her parents will never approve of him or her sister who has since come out as gay.
Oh yeah, there’s also the grieving widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) whose wife died while serving in the military overseas, and he is left to raise their daughters on his own. The women at the fitness club he works at are eager to set him up with somebody, but he of course is hesitant to start dating again. And then he runs into Sandy at the local supermarket and… well, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what happens from there.
What bothered me so much about “Mother’s Day” was how cloying and artificial the whole thing felt. Granted, not every movie can feature down to earth characters in relatable situations like “The Meddler” did, but everything here felt so one-dimensional and done by the numbers. Marshall has directed great movies in the past like “The Flamingo Kid,” “Nothing in Common,” “Pretty Women” which turned Julia Roberts into a movie star, and he’s the same guy who gave us the television classics “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley” and “Mork & Mindy.” I even have good things to say about “The Princess Diaries” which introduced us to Anne Hathaway who was as a beautiful a nerd as she was a princess. But after all these years, you’d think he would be able to give us a movie filled with more than standard situations and cardboard-cutout characters. I refuse to deride his horrible direction as the result of old age because that’s just unnecessarily cruel, but even in his later years he has done so much better than this tripe.
It’s a real shame because the cast is great and they do their best with material that is far beneath them. Aniston is wonderful as a single mom, and that’s even though her work here doesn’t compare to her underappreciated performances in “The Good Girl” and “Cake.” Sudeikis has proven, in a way he should not have had to, that he can be a strong actor thanks to his performance in “Race,” and he’s wasted here in a role he is far more believable in than many would expect. Hudson, who has attracted mediocre material ever since her star-making turn in “Almost Famous,” does look very relaxed in her performance which gives us hope she will eventually a movie worthy of her talents.
But if there’s anyone in “Mother’s Day” who pulls off a truly emotionally honest performance, let alone powerful moment, it’s Roberts. The scene where she explains to her daughter why she gave her up for adoption proves to be more heart-rending than what the rest of the movie ever could have promised, and it reminds us why she remains a beloved movie star after all these years. Never mind that the situation is completely contrived as it is presented here, Roberts plays it with a lot of heart and wins us over regardless of how bad this movie truly is.
Regardless, “Mother’s Day” was such an uncomfortable movie for me to sit through that I quickly became nauseous as a result. It’s a shame to see Mandvi, so great on “The Daily Show,” playing nothing more than an Indian stereotype who just happens to be a doctor. Loni Love plays Kimberly, an African-American who is taking pole dancing classes but fumbles them as she is overweight. Kimberly proves to be as funny a character as any Eddie Murphy played in “Norbit,” and no one should mistake that as a compliment. The more Marshall relies on stereotypes, the more this movie sinks into an abyss of awfulness.
But the actors I felt the sorriest for were Margo Martindale and Robert Pine who played Jesse’s parents in the movie. They are presented as a couple of very conservative parents who are about to wake up to just how liberal their daughters are. Of course, they are shocked by the love partners their daughters have chosen to spend their lives with, but that they eventually come to accept their decisions in life as well as their grandchildren comes across as no surprise whatsoever. Martindale in particular is a tremendous actress, so her role here feels like an enormous waste of her time as she is forced to portray a type rather than a character.
The more I watched “Mother’s Day,” the more nauseous I became. This is such an emotionally manipulative movie that I couldn’t wait for it to be over. This movie has a running time of two hours, and it became increasingly torturous the longer it went on. While it may have its heart in the right place, it still feels like a gigantic insult to the intelligence. Surely everyone involved with this crap could have come up with something infinitely better, right?
“Mother’s Day” is meant to give tribute to all the mothers out there, but there are so many other movies out there which can quickly put this one to shame. Regardless of its intentions, it is inescapably awful and deserving of the derision bound to come its way. If you are going to take your mother to a movie this year, take her to see “The Meddler” instead. Taking her to see “Mother’s Day” won’t seem all that different from taking her to see the camp classic “Mommie Dearest” or Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible,” and that’s saying a lot.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.