Open Road Films
Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material.
Running time: 118 minutes.
One half star out of four.
“Mother’s Day” is so terrible that it inspired me to start my list of the worst movies of 2016.
January and February are traditionally dumping-ground time, so a lot of truly awful movies usually have paraded past my eyes by this time each year. But “Mother’s Day” felt like a particular milestone, one that I wanted to commemorate with great alacrity — like, as soon as the credits started rolling and I could turn my phone back on again.
Garry Marshall just needs to stay away from holidays altogether. “Mother’s Day” is the veteran director’s third ensemble comedy based on a beloved event on the calendar following “Valentine’s Day” (2010) and “New Year’s Eve” (2011). I had vague hope that this one might actually be better, given that it didn’t come from the writer of those first two movies. But they just keep getting worse. The wacky antics and mawkish sentimentality of A-listers colliding into each other have given way to complete incoherence this time around.
There isn’t a single authentic moment in this entire movie which, mindbogglingly, runs all of two hours. As a mother myself in my early 40s, I am your target audience, and I did not witness anything that moved me in any emotional direction beyond extreme discomfort. There is exactly one scene that maybe kinda-sorta works briefly, and that’s just because Julia Roberts is really good at crying on cue.
Basically, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson and Britt Robertson and Sarah Chalke and Margo Martindale are moms and Roberts might be a mom and Shay Mitchell is a stepmom and Jason Sudeikis is a dad. They all live in Atlanta, where their lives intertwine in ways that are both contrived and mundane and where it’s warm much of the time, giving Aniston and Hudson the opportunity to exercise outdoors quite a bit (in pieces from Hudson’s Fabletics line of workout gear, no doubt).
Aniston stars as Sandy, who’s amicably divorced from Timothy Olyphant’s Henry, with whom she has two young sons. (One of them has asthma, which will provide a crucial plot point later. It’s like Chekhov’s Inhaler.) But Henry recently has eloped with his much younger girlfriend, the bombshell Tina (Mitchell), which sends Sandy into a cliched, middle-aged panic of shrill, existential angst.
Sandy also happens to be friends with Hudson’s character, Jesse, who’s secretly married to a man of Indian descent (Aasif Mandvi) because her conservative, racist parents in Texas (Martindale and Robert Pine) wouldn’t approve. She also has a child with his man, which is also a secret. Across the street, Jesse’s sister (Sarah Chalke) is also secretly a wife and mother — with her longtime partner, a woman named Max (Cameron Esposito). When Mom and Dad pull up to Jesse’s house in their RV unannounced, madcap hilarity ensues. “Mother’s Day” might be trying to show how diverse and progressive it is in representing every kind of family, but it’s a laugh track away from “Three’s Company” levels of subterfuge. (The script, for the record, comes from Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker and Tom Hines.)
Robertson, meanwhile, plays a cocktail waitress named Kristin. She’s the mother of an infant with her longtime boyfriend, Zack (Jack Whitehall), a Brit who also happens to be the least funny stand-up comedian in America. His lame sets are prime examples of the excruciatingly awkward editing strategy at work here, with repeated cutaways to audience members laughing hysterically at moments when Zack isn’t even telling an actual joke.
Finally, there’s Sudeikis as a recent widower named Bradley. His wife (Jennifer Garner, seen only in cheesy karaoke video footage during a moment of reminiscence) was a Marine lieutenant who died in battle in Afghanistan, leaving him to raise the couple’s two daughters alone. Ten bucks if you can figure out which single-mom character he’ll eventually end up with.
Roberts flits in and out of these storylines as Miranda Collins, a home-shopping style maven who peddles jewelry, including cheap-looking pendants that change color depending on your mood. She may be related to somebody else in “Mother’s Day”; her close-cropped orange bob, however, is related to no human being on the planet. (But Marshall, who directed Roberts to super-stardom a quarter century ago in “Pretty Woman,” does manage to wring the movie’s one fleeting, decent moment out of her here, too.)
Marshall veers wildly between hokey moments that are meant to be humorous and saccharine moments that are meant to be sentimental. Sudeikis’ painful rap routine to a sanitized version of “The Humpty Dance” is meant to be both simultaneously. The characters never feel like real people, even though they’re constantly explaining themselves to us. (“I have abandonment issues,” Kristin says while discussing why she won’t marry Zack.) And their antics are lighted in a flat, bright way that creates a distracting feeling of detachment.
If you love your mother — or even if you hate your mother — take her to see something else this Mother’s Day. A revival of “Mommie Dearest,” maybe.