Movie Review: Mother's Day

This all-star holiday feast feels like undercooked leftovers

Mother's Day
Directed by Garry Marshall
With Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Britt Robertson, Héctor Elizondo

Some holidays like Christmas are ripe material for heartwarming comedies. Others, not so much. Previously Mother's Day inspired a few horror films, which sounds about right. Veteran comedy director Gary Marshall decided to make an ensemble comedy called Mother's Day, following on his box office hits gleaned from Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve.

The formula is simple enough: get a lot of stars that appeal to different demographics and somehow overlap their stories a bit so the whole thing feels like one movie somehow.

But few people make that big of a deal out of Mother's Day, so the whole project feels forced from the start. Most people handle it with a phone call or e-mail, maybe a visit if you live in the same city.

The links between the various stories are also a bit tenuous, leaving viewers with the feeling that someone had some ideas for several films, couldn't complete any of them and instead tried to tie then up with a Mother's Day bow and pass them off as fresh.

The best of story lines features Jesse (played by Kate Hudson) as an adult daughter who has broken off contact with her narrow-minded parents. For reasons of plot convenience, she lives next to her sister, Gabi (Sarah Chalke), in Atlanta, Georgia. The parents live in Texas, but drop in for a surprise visit. The surprise is on them as they find out their daughters have been keeping secrets.
The plot is at least in the ballpark of something that could happen, and handled with a fair balance of comedy and sensitivity. The parents are forced to come to terms with some of their outdated ideas about race and gender if they are going to have any relationship at all with their children.

With some development this could have been a decent film on its own. Actor Aasif Mandvi, a former corespondent on The Daily Show, appears in this section in a too-small role that should have been expanded. The parents also could have been fleshed out more.

Next up is a plot involving Sandy, played by Friends star Jennifer Aniston. It is the same divorced-couple-trying-to-share-the-kids story that you have seen a thousand times. Sandy has a good relationship with her ex-husband, Henry (Timothy Oliphant), until he becomes involved with a prettier and younger woman, Tina (Shay Mitchell). Then the two fight over the loyalty of the kids. There are some funny moments, though, and a touching part where the participants show a bit of maturity.

The film then tries to have a deep subplot, with Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) as a single dad. One might well ask why a single dad is in a film about Mother's Day. It is a good question that the scriptwriter's have no answer for. Everyone sees it as a huge injustice that he doesn't want to celebrate Mother's Day with his daughters, but there is always Father's Day, which the film conveniently never mentions.

The audience is supposed to feel patriotic that the mother died overseas in the military, but it comes off as a crassly commercialized attempt to tug at the heartstrings by waving the flag.

But things get even worse. There is a plot with a would-be stand-up comic and his girlfriend. She doesn't want to get married because of some secret in her past, and the there is a plot with TV-show host and writer Miranda Collins (Julia Roberts). She never married because of her career, which she puts ahead of everything.

Roberts can do excellent work, but she is wasted with scenes that simply are not funny or sympathetic. There is a surprise with her role, but it should be painfully obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

You can almost feel the writers and director flipping through the calendar looking for some holiday they could plunder. But Mother's Day just isn't a fun holiday to begin with. Nobody ever says that they are really looking forward to the next one. Mother's Day is a chore, like mowing the lawn.

Let's hope they stop before tackling Father's Day … or Flag Day …or Washington's Birthday.

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