Film Review: Mother's Day

Garry Marshall’s latest star-studded, holiday-themed movie mash-up finds material for shtick in the various configurations of modern motherhood.
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Although it eventually becomes clear who everyone is, who is hooked up with whom, who has kids and how many, and how all these people may be related to each other (or not), the first half-hour or so of Mother’s Day is like getting thrown into a sunny suburban mosh pit where everyone is dancing—but it’s not clear they’re all listening to the same music.

First, there’s Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorced mom who lives with her two boys in a grand home in Atlanta, where we meet her one morning as she comes into the kitchen wearing a tiny terry-cloth bath wrap—one of those one-button, strapless, butt-skimming cover-ups—the sight of which will undoubtedly make Aniston’s fans happy, but doesn’t terribly impress her two sons or their dad, Henry (Timothy Olyphant), Sandy’s ex, who has dropped by unexpectedly because he needs to have a serious talk with his ex-wife. Later, when they finally get around to that talk, Henry drops the bombshell news that he recently married (“We eloped.”) an old girlfriend, Tina (Shay Mitchell.)

(The astute viewer will pause here to note that director Garry Marshall and his writers have already checked off two types of modern-day mother: the divorcée who must suddenly share her kids with the new wife of her ex—and the ex’s new, much younger second wife who now must learn to be a stepmom. Get it? Good.)

In the same (or very similar) neighborhood live two other young mothers: Jesse (Kate Hudson) and her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) who are next-door neighbors. Turns out they are both keeping deep, dark secrets from their mother, Flo (Margo Martindale) and father Earl (Robert Pine), who live in Texas but keep in touch with their daughters through frequent Skyping. What Flo and Earl don’t know, though, until they make a surprise visit to Atlanta (just in time for Mother’s Day), is that Jesse has gone against their wishes to marry Russell (Aasif Mandvi), a dark-skinned Indian who fathered their mixed-race son. (Is that what passes for diversity in Atlanta, Georgia—an Indian, from India?) Also, daughter Gabi is not engaged to a guy named Stephen, as her parents believed, for she’s actually married to a woman named Max (Cameron Esposito) who used donor sperm to give birth to their son. (Will Flo and Earl learn to accept their daughters’ decisions? Will the sun come up tomorrow?)

Meanwhile, the local gym frequented by most of these moms is run by a guy named Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), a handsome widower (whose wife, a Marine lieutenant, was killed in action in the Middle East) and he’s trying his best to be a “Mister Mom” to two teenage daughters. Then there’s young Kristin (Britt Robertson), an aspiring actress who refuses to marry her fiancé Zack (Jack Whitehall), a stand-up comedian and the father of her year-old daughter, and her refusal to wed is directly related to the fact that she’s adopted, which means, in her words, “I don’t know who I am.” Finally, to complete the all-star cast, there’s Miranda (Julia Roberts), a visiting TV star (i.e., the leading spokesperson on the shopping channel) who apparently chose a career over marriage and motherhood. However, it turns out that Miranda once had a daughter out of wedlock and gave her up for adoption. Oh! Could it be??

Mother’s Day is chock-a-block with “Could it be?” coincidences and sometimes embarrassing references to whatever seems au courant in family arrangements. Which makes the plot even more unrealistic than Garry Marshall’s previous holiday-themed rom-coms, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. And, unlike those previous efforts, Mother’s Day takes place over an entire week instead of just one day, which allows time for the two main single “moms” (Aniston’s Sandy and Sudeikis’ Bradley) to meet cute—not just once but twice: first at the supermarket when she sees him buying tampons (for his teenage daughter) and then at a hospital where Sandy has taken her son after an asthma attack and Bradley comes in with a broken ankle... oh, never mind.

The oddest thing (and that’s saying something) about Mother’s Day is the stilted role given Julia Roberts, who, as everyone knows, had an early star-making turn as the lovable, anything-goes prostitute in Marshall’s Pretty Woman. Granted, Roberts is older now, and waaay famous, but it’s still a shock (and odd) to see her acting so regal and self contained. Perhaps Roberts’ performance stands out because it’s the only one going against type. All the other leading actors in Mother’s Day—Aniston, Hudson, Sudeikis—are simply doing their shtick, and, of course, so is their director. Perhaps it’s time for Mr. Marshall to retire the idea of holiday movies. Or perhaps it’s simply time to retire?

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