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Mother's Day

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 29, 2016
Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson star in 'Mother's Day'
Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson star in 'Mother's Day'  (Source:Open Road Films)

This harmless bit of fluff from the once-formidable Garry Marshall ("Beaches," "Pretty Woman," "Frankie and Johnny" -- even "The Princess Diaries," if your tastes run that way) brims with B-list movie stars and formerly A-list TV actors.

Marshall's current release marks three films in row centered around holidays (following 2011's "New Year's Eve" and 2010's "Valentine's Day"). What holiday could Marshall set his sights on next? Well, not the Fourth of July... not with "Independence Day: Resurgence" set to explode across the screens this summer. May Day could have been a contender, had anyone known two years ago -- in time to get a project in development -- what a dent Bernie Sanders would make in the current campaign cycle. And St. Patrick's Day? Nope, that would call for a March release, and who cares about movies that hit the cineplex in February and March. How about "Mother's Day" instead?

With the vaunted day of celebration of motherhood a week away, several residents of Atlanta, Georgia find their lives intersecting in ways that don't always seem agreeable. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorced mother of two who supports her brood (and her really, really nice house) by working as an interior designer. She's insanely jealous of the fact that her ex, Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has just remarried, tying the knot with under-thirty Tina (Shay Mitchell). (Who knows what Henry does; whatever it is, his house is even nicer, and he whips up plans for a family trip to Paris with the casual air of someone contemplating a Saturday afternoon trip, by light rail, to the beach.) It complicates Sandy's life, and hurts her feelings, that Henry wants the boys for part of Mother's Day so that Tina can feel more included.

Sandy is friends with Jesse (Kate Hudson), who has mommy issues of her own. Jesse hasn't spoken to her redneck mother (Margo Martindale) in years -- so many years, in fact, that he's married a man from India named Russell (Aasi Mandvi) and had a child with him in the interim, a situation she dare not reveal for fear of igniting a racist meltdown.

That's nothing compared to the lies Gabbi (Sarah Chalke) has been spinning for parental consumption. Gabbi has invented a male fiancee to cover up the fact that she's long been married to a woman named Max (Cameron Esposito), and the two have a son of their own. Faced with the task of reconciling with Mom via Skype, the sisters reflect on the fact that "there was a reason" they left Texas for the saner environs of Georgia. (In light of a recent attempt to pass a wide-reaching anti-LGBT law there, this exchange strikes one as funnier than almost any other laugh line in the film.)

Three more storylines unfold in parallel. One belongs to Miranda (Julia Roberts), a shopping channel celebrity who has come to town (and who Sandy hopes to convince to give her the job of building her new TV studio); another to Zack (Jack Whitehall) and Kristin (Britt Robertson), an unmarried couple who work together at a pub (he wants to make it legal, she doesn't); and Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), the lone male lead, a widower whose wife Dana (Jennifer Garner) was a Marine who didn't come back alive from duty overseas. This is the first Mother's Day without her, and how will he and his two daughters face the day?

The film is harmless, yes, but also irrelevant and insignificant, even when it tries to toss in the occasional social comment. The problem with the film's various little messages is that they are tossed out with as little success as most of the jokes, and given hardly any more substance. Cops drawing their sidearms in panic at the very sight of a non-Caucasian? A timely issue, one some would call pressing, but treated here like another disposable gag. The stigmatizing of mental illness (or what a passer by could take as mental illness)? That's a recurring beat that plays into repeated near-connections between Sandy and Bradley. The challenges of modern blended families? Not so challenging when mom and dad are both well-paid white professionals who have managed to remain best friends in spite of divorce and custody issues.

The humor is equally bland, ranging from the hilarious antics of an impromptu Saturday afternoon house party (complete with clown and petting zoo!) to a humiliating attempt (by a white guy in pink... pardon me, "salmon"... trousers) at hip hop. Then there are the forced coincidences (one involving an adult with abandonment issues and a long-lost parent who turns out to be conveniently near by), the hoary plot devices (Zack, an aspiring comedian, hopes to win a competition that pays a cool $5,000), and a spectacularly ill-judged moment in which the movie careens... literally!... into a brief tangent one could dub "Smokey and the Bandit Lite."

This Mother's Day, do mum a favor and steer her well clear of this rote exercise. Wouldn't she rather have a Blu-ray copy of "An Affair to Remember" -- or maybe a reminder of Julie Roberts' A-list days, like "Pretty Woman?"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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