If there’s one thing that Hollywood, and in this case director Garry Marshall, likes more, well quite possibly than mothers themselves, it’s a good old, well-used formula.
Worry not about well-rounded characters, authenticity of any kind and emotions that even come close to ringing true; no, what you need are some loosely-sketched, tenuously-connected people (even if they are best friends or family), the hint of real world angst and the means to solve these barely cooked-through dilemmas with a sitcom-esque ease that will have you wishing you too could live in Cinema Land.
And while it’s all perfectly amiable, sweet and inoffensive, and on some fairly superficial, don’t-engage-your-brain-I-said-don’t, level sort of somewhat enjoyable – to the point where you feel like an emotional grinch for so much as thinking about disparaging its fairy floss concoction – the result is a movie that wastes its A-list stars, of which there are many, and delivers less of a knockout finale that an “aw shucks, that’s possibly a little bit lovely” ending guaranteed to warm the hard and cold cockles of your heart while leaving the rest of you wondering why you bothered.
Like Marshall’s two previous films in this vein, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day is heavy on the treacle, the sap and the corn, peddling like a sugar-fuelled monkey on an exercise bike to elicit all the manipulated emotions it can from you.
Yes, among all the sugary froth and nonsense, there are important Things You Must Learn, all of which, quite naturally, centre on the fact that Mothers are Wonderful, Self-Sacrificial Angels – true on all counts but the time you’re finished with Mother’s Day, you won’t care – but it’s delivered in such a determinedly emotionally-aggressive way that you can see it’s many twists and turns, in which reside nuggets of maternal wisdom and truth, coming in such an obvious way that any narrative satisfaction is long long before the characters hove earnestly (or goofily) into view.
Yes, there are movies that are light, frothy and fun and that’s totally fine; not every film has to be a grippingly intense drama about salt of the earth settlers in the mid-nineteenth century wild west who endure pestilence, sandstorms, earthquakes and fire before learning deeply important life lessons.
But movies this likeable and saccharine, even if they do pass their two hour running time with relative ease, do a disservice to other movies of their ilk which actually manage to be somewhat genuinely meaningful.
The characters who populate our interconnected universe – like all of Marshall’s films, everyone is linked together in some fashion, whether by blood, marriage or friendship – are your stock standard collection of human tropes.
You have happily-divorced interior designer Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), mother to two boys, whose world set well and truly off-kilter when handsome ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) spontaneously up and marries late 20s actress/model/tweeter Tina (Shay Mitchell) who is cool and hip in a way that Sandy feels she can never be (ah but Tina is NOT a mother so there!; yes the messages are that clunky and clumsily shoehorned in).
Sandy, who is given Aniston’s phone-it-in weirdly-but-likeably unhinged treatment, is best friends with Jesse (Kate Hudson) who is married to Indian doctor Russell (Aasif Mandvi) and sister to not-quite-out-of-the-closet Gabi (Sarah Chalke), neither of whom have told their estranged, bigoted but too bigoted mother Flo (Margo Martindale) and father Earl (Robert Pine) that they are married and gay respectively.
Throw in widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) who is still mourning the loss of his wife a year earlier) while trying to keep the memory of their mum alive for his daughters (and yes learning How Good Mothers Are; there are those lesson-bearing capitalised letters again), bartender Kristin (Britt Robertson) who is trying to connect with her birth mother Miranda (Julia Roberts) while fending off her baby daddy Zack (Jack Whitehall)’s entreaties for marriage (the cad!).
All the storylines are meant to have an equal mix of whimsy and meaning, or in the case of the next to final trailer and giant pink womb on a trailer (don’t ask) chase slapstick chase scene, outright hilarity, but never really ring true.
We’re supposed to root for Bradley and Sandy to get together, their endless meet-cutes – how are they not figuring out what’s going on? Clearly they’re so stupid they deserve each other – wish for Kristin to meet her mum, and hope that Gabi and Jesse can come clean to their parents, find freedom and emotional honesty and importantly, Reconnect With Their Mother, who deep down is a Loving Caring Mother.
And in a kind of offhand, don’t-mind-if-they-do, don’t-mind-if-they-don’t way, you do wish the best for these characters, all of whom have to learn motherly lessons of one kind or another.
But there’s no real emotional investment in the outcome, everything so light and frothy that the meaningful stuff, such as it is, gets lost in the ensemble shuffle and you’re left with a glimmer or two of the warm and fuzzies before everything quickly dissipates like a few raindrops on red hot summer bitumen.
Again, not every movie has to be an earnest treatise on the human condition, and escapist movies have their place but this is a lazy effort, a cobbling together of tropes, lessons and connivances that doesn’t come close to having any kind of impact.
In fact, it all gets so tedious and obvious, and over long, that you begin to will the movie to end, which it is most certainly does not, what with a wedding, reconnections and possible new love clogging up the film’s closing scenes, many of which seem so thrown together that you begin to wonder if they ran out of script two thirds of the way and simply kept filming hoping it would all work out in some fashion.
Mothers are wonderful in every way, that’s true, and should be the centre of a film that celebrates the selfless lengths they go to raise and nurture their kids; but Mother’s Day, sweet though it may be despite its many shortcomings, is not that film.
Like a potato man or a cheap clay necklace present on the big day itself, mothers, and practically every other member of the human race, deserve way better.