By Chaz Lipp
After watching director Garry Marshall’s latest holiday-themed ensemble comedy Mother’s Day, I was reminded of my immediate reaction to his previous one, New Year’s Eve (2011). While they’re easy to write off as a lazy, forced, cartoonish, and corny, these films obviously fulfill a certain purpose. Like New Year’s Eve (and Marshall’s 2010’s Valentine’s Day), Mother’s Day features an over-qualified cast slumming their way through sentimental cliches and romantic glop. But that’s exactly what Marshall intended and exactly why a wide swath of mainstream moviegoers enjoy these films.
There are a ton of plot threads laced together in Mother’s Day, all centered on motherhood and parenting in general. The weightiest story involves recent widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) and his teen and tween daughters. His Marine wife (Jennifer Garner in a perky cameo) was killed in action and he’s struggling with the fast-approaching first Mother’s Day since her passing. Meanwhile, Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is trying to adjust to sharing her two boys with her ex’s (an irredeemably smug Timothy Olyphant) new bride (Shay Mitchell). Sandy and Bradley meet cute (the latter is picking up tampons for his eldest)—no prizes for guessing where things might be heading. Here’s the thing: Sudeikis and Aniston have long-established chemistry (this is their fifth onscreen pairing) and both manage to transcend the trite material.
That leaves Julia Roberts as a career-driven home shopping network hostess who receives a surprise visit from her past, Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke as sisters hiding their true selves from their bigoted parents (the former married a minority, the latter is a lesbian), Britt Robertson as a commitment-phobic mom with a struggling stand-up comic boyfriend (Jake Whitehall), and a host of minor supporting roles (including cameos by the likes of Jon Lovitz, Larry Miller, and others). Many serious issues are touched upon, including homophobia and racism, but they’re given such shallow treatment that Marshall needn’t have bothered. By the time Mother’s Day ramps up to a big climax, which involves an out of control RV, its inconsistent tone has gotten the better of it.
Still, even as I basically diss the film as a glib mess, I’m reminded of the laughter among an audience dominated by middle-aged and senior citizen moms. One caught my attention on the way out as she told thanked her daughter for taking her. “That was a hilarious movie,” she said. I’m not suggesting these folks have poor taste. I’m suggesting that they’re smart enough to take Mother’s Day for what it is: exceptionally light, highly inconsequential entertainment. Too bad the movie didn’t focus solely on Bradley and Sandy (Sudeikis and Aniston get more laughs out of a package of Skittles stuck in a vending machine than anyone or anything else in the film), but ultimately this movie isn’t worthy of scorn it has generally received from critics.
Mother’s Day (2016) Images: Open Road Films