Finally, there's a Mother's Day film for people who hate their mothers.
It must completely suck to be Julia Roberts. I mean, seriously. You've reached the point in your career where you do about one film a year. Your last film, Secret in Their Eyes, earned you your best reviews for years yet was seen by about 13 people including family members. Then, 81-year-old iconic television and film director Garry Marshall rings you up and says "Hey, you wanna' star in my latest film alongside Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Jason Sudeikis? It's a great little Mother's Day picture. You know? Like that Valentine's Day film I did and that New Year's Eve film I did!"
Julia's thinking "Oh God, I can't say "No!" to Garry Marshall. After all, he gave me my big break with Pretty Woman."
So, she says "Yes!" to a film that will likely be seen by more than 13 people but is destined to provide her with what may very well be the most scathing reviews of her career.
What's a pretty woman to do?
So, you're probably thinking to yourself "Is Mother's Day really that bad?" Or am I just one of those gleefully sadistic film critics who takes joy in trashing the work of actors and actresses who make far more on one film than I will ever see in my lifetime?
Rest assured, Mother's Day really is that bad.
Mother's Day is so bad that I picture Aniston, Roberts, Sudeikis and Hudson all sitting around in a circle making jokes about having their Michael Caine film, think Jaws 4, a film horrifically bad yet at least it'll buy them a house or a car or a child's college tuition or the counseling necessary to deal with the trauma of having worked on such a lousy motion picture.
It has been a long time, or at least since Rob Reiner's last film, that so much talent has added up to nothing. Mother's Day is the kind of film that makes you want to place a pillow over your mother's face screaming "You ruined my life! You ruined my life!"
Okay, that may be a bit exaggerated.
Set in a whitewashed Atlanta, Mother's Day, as you should probably expect, involves a collection of stories from people whose lives will by film's end somehow interconnect or dissect or deflect or genuflect or something like that.
There's Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a happily divorced mother of two whose ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) has moved on with Tina (Shay Mitchell), who I'm pretty sure is older than his daughter.
Again, I'm slightly exaggerating.
There's Miranda (Julia Roberts), a successful purveyor of QVC-style jewelry whose appearance here is fairly meaningless and dripping with dedication to a director who probably looked at her with pleading eyes and said "You know, I'm probably not going to be around forever."
There's Jesse (Kate Hudson), potentially the film's most rewarding character, a woman who married an Indian man (Aasif Mandvi) and who has subsequently avoided her ultra-conservative mother (Margo Martindale). Just to tweak the whole conservative/progressive thing a little more, she even has a lesbian sister (Sarah Chalke). Have you ever noticed that nearly every ultra-conservative parent has at least one gay/lesbian child? It's like God is saying "Quit being so damn conservative."
I made it about halfway through seminary. I'm fully aware that God loves to fuck with the minds of His/Her followers.
Finally, there's Jason Sudeikis's Bradley, a widowed father of two girls dealing with the loss of his combat-killed wife (Jennifer Garner, who unquestionably does not regard this film as a miracle from heaven).
As is always true in these films, there are sub-story lines. Fortunately, Marshall largely avoids too many threads likely in an effort to feature his mostly A and B-list quartet of leading players. There's no question that Garry Marshall is a talented director, though much like Rob Reiner he's spent the last few years trying to recreate a magic that simply can't be recreated.
It's kind of like that one really awesome date I had years ago where I did all the right things and played all the right music and we made sweet, passionate love. I would spend the rest of our short-lived relationship trying, and completely failing, to recreate that magic until our relationship downward spiraled into that special place in relationship hell for guys who meant well but failed miserably.
But hey, at least we're still Facebook friends.
Valentine's Day was a fairly middle-of-the-road effort, a schmaltzy exercise that was painfully obvious but not impossible to watch. New Year's Eve? It was vanilla, paint-by-numbers cinema but it was still fairly harmless. Mother's Day makes me long for Meryl Streep's August: Osage County performance just so I could at least experience something resembling an authentic emotion.
Mother's Day is the kind of film that will make you laugh in all the wrong ways. You'll laugh AT the film instead of with it. You'll laugh at how incredibly godawful the film is and you'll likely laugh, and maybe cry, about the fact that most of the folks working on the film made more for doing so than you will make this year and, for the leading folks, maybe more than many of us will make in a lifetime.
You'll cringe at the incredibly talented Jason Sudeikis doing a karaoke version of The Humpty Dance for children.
You'll giggle when Britt Robertson's Kristin lives into her more than a little obvious personality disorder by proudly proclaiming "I have abandonment issues" while avoiding commitment with her wretched stand-up comic boyfriend (Jack Whitehall).
You'll laugh, at any number of uncomfortable jokes, as Marshall's quartet of writers, Monster-in-Law scribe Anya Kochoff being the only one with experience, construct predictable and half-baked comic moments that land with a thud, reinforce stereotypes, play more broadly than Trump's planned wall and generally fail in mind-bogglingly epic ways. I mean, I get it, Marshall has never been particularly concerned about the critics. That's fine. There's nothing particularly wrong with creating films for mass audiences and your own target audience, but Mother's Day is an almost iconic, yet inconsequential, failure even in this regard.
What's even more sad is that it's painfully obvious that everyone knows it. With the exception of the always game Margo Martindale, there's no one here even trying let alone anywhere near their A-game. I mean, Aniston is a year removed from what many thought should have been an Oscar-nominated performance in Cake. Here? She may find herself with Razzie nomination. Julia Roberts and, maybe even more importantly her hair, will most assuredly snag a nomination.
You get the feeling that the writers sat around in a room thinking up the most outlandish comedy bits possible, but didn't bother to consider if they made sense for the film and didn't bother to try to connect them. Mother's Day is jarringly disconnected, a film as insincere and meaningless as was Reiner's Flipped from a few years back.
Fortunately, Roberts has likely repaid that debt of gratitude to Marshall and can move on from debacle and look forward to the upcoming Money Monster. She will survive as will Aniston, Hudson, Sudeikis and the rest of the ensemble cast. Marshall, who has never been shy about casting friends and family in his films, even tosses an oldie but a goodie that was instantly recognizable in the film's opening scene.
While there are film critics who seem to take a certain joy in writing scathing reviews, I'm looking at you Rex Reed, the truth is that most of us are as uncomfortable trashing a film as Jesse's parents would be at a Bernie Sanders rally.
Everyone involved, okay almost everyone, involved in Garry Marshall's Mother's Day is immensely talented but the film itself is destined to be one of the year's absolute worst efforts and easily the worst of Marshall's long career. Destined to resonate most with those who don't actually have mothers and therefore have no clear expectations, Mother's Day is what happens when good actors and actresses don't know how to say "No."
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic