Mother’s Day: A Hallmark of Half-Assedness, by David Bax
For a lot of people, Mother’s Day is a perfunctory sort of holiday, where the main concern is checking the gift/brunch/phone-call duties off the list for another year. Garry Marshall seems to have felt the same way about his new movie, Mother’s Day, an aggressively pleasant distraction more preoccupied with hitting its low stakes, rom-com melodrama marks than it is with examining what it might mean to be or have a mother.
Following the formula established by his other holiday-centric films (New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day), Marshall presents an ensemble of loosely connected stories about even more loosely connected characters. Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson play friends, I guess? They speak to one another twice in the whole movie with no clues as to how they know or relate to one another. Mostly, what the characters have in common is that they all live in (the suburbs of) Atlanta, a fact you can’t miss because the words “Atlanta” and “Georgia” are reiterated so often, it begins to feel as if the movie was financed by the tourism board.
The closest Mother’s Day comes to a unifying idea is when, early on, the film’s lesbian couple (played by Sarah Chalke and the terrific young comedian Cameron Esposito) point out that one thing we all have in common–gay, straight, black, white, trans, cis, etc.–is that we were born of mothers. As the movie progresses, though, we come to see that this message of openness and tolerance does not extend any further than a white, middle class milieu.
Any other ideas the movie seeks to impart are even less subtle, especially when it comes to characterization. One young girl, after watching a video of her late mother singing karaoke, observes, “Mom loved karaoke.” Another woman, after a monologue laying out her entire backstory, sums it up for those of us who still don’t get it with, “I have abandonment issues.”
Another motif, too spotty and out of place to be fully intentional, finds multiple characters pretending to be something they’re not or hiding things about themselves. Eventually, of course, the truth must out because that’s just how drama works. But sometimes this all feels like the movie itself becoming aware of its own disingenuousness.
Mostly, this is just a reason to throw together a number of welcome actors in a odds-friendly bet to recoup the production budget with some profit to spare. In addition to those already mentioned, we are treated to turns from Timothy Olyphant, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizondo (naturally), Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Aasif Mandvi, a brief appearance from Larry Miller and a tiny cameo from another big star. As the many narratives grind toward their inevitable conclusions, each of the above do their best to lubricate the gears with actorly charms. They all shine as befits their star status but there’s little here worth casting their light on.