There is no way I can recommend a movie like Mother’s Day, and yet I am glad to have seen it. They just don’t make them like this anymore, unless you’re Garry Marshall, then it’s all you make.
The Hollywood comedy landscape is littered with movies that think they’re above crude language and vulgar obscenities when really they’re buried beneath their own assumptions. Clearing the way is Marshall’s latest effort, a romantic comedy that drops the romance for motherly love and embraces a comedy that’s generally clean and inoffensive (there are a couple of risqué images and a repository of racial jibes, but they’re all in good spirit). Oh, the plot is stale all right, but the film breathes new air into an atmosphere that has grown cold and frigid. I’m happy to report that scatological humour has no room in a Garry Marshall film.
Mother’s Day is very much like Marshall’s earlier pictures, the ones about Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. You could copy all the characters and social situations from those movies, paste them onto this one and no one would be the wiser. Why, then, did I enjoy this more than those two?
It boils down to the actors and their performances. The earlier pictures, despite one of them starring Robert De Niro, had no one that seemed to know the kind of movie they were in. Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, and especially Jason Sudeikis in Mother’s Day understand quite plainly that nothing they are saying or doing can be believed. It’s all fantasy, and they are wise to their own acts. It also helps, I think, that there are fewer interconnected storylines this time, which means there are fewer characters to follow around like scurrying ants.
To outline the plot would be a futile endeavour, because there are several. Instead, the movie plays like a shopping list, ticking off groceries as it goes. It is about Mother’s Day, so naturally we are given every kind of mother under the sun. Single mothers, young mothers, accidental mothers, same-sex mothers, divorced mothers, deceased mothers, grandmothers and so on.
We meet some of their husbands and their obnoxious children. They are given specific problematic circumstances that will be neatly resolved before the end – Sandy (Aniston) has to cede her position to her ex-husband’s newer, slimmer, perkier squeeze (Shay Mitchell); Jesse (Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke) have been lying to their prejudiced redneck parents for years and now the truth threatens to run them over; Kristin (Britt Robertson) and Zack (Jack Whitehall) want to get married; Miranda (Roberts) is a workaholic with a secret; and Bradley (Sudeikis) is a former Marine trying to wrangle what remains of his family after his wife’s passing. If you’ve seen either of Marshall’s earlier films, or the superior Love Actually (2003), you will know that some of these stories matter more than others, and some will spring surprising interconnections.
At the end of the day, it’s all very thin soup. And it is remarkable how generously Marshall has thrown in a same-sex couple but has forgotten to include any Asians or Latin Americans (there is an Indian character, played by Aasif Mandvi, the butt of many of those racial jibes). The only black character of consequence is overweight and struggles to get out of a chair.
Still, I enjoyed Mother’s Day as much as such a picture can be enjoyed. It’s escapism at its most saccharine, and it packs enough laughs to remind me that there is an audience for these sorts of movies. It’s oddly reassuring that Marshall can still be bothered to dream up such trivial stories, drop beautiful actors into them, line them with hollow dialogue, and still make some people in the crowd cry with affection.