Director: Garry Marshall
Stars: Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston
1 Globe (out of 5)
Say what you will about “Mother’s Day” — at least it knows what it is. Like Garry Marshall’s other ensemble holiday yuk machines, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a greeting card with a dumb, inoffensive joke you hastily grab at your local Hallmark. Marshall might even take that as a compliment.
Actually, maybe it isn’t quite up to those heights: “Funny” greeting cards tend to have a coherent joke plus attractive, professional designs. “Mother’s Day” is visually haphazard with gags that perhaps at one point sounded funny in theory, maybe, and aren’t saved by the usual solution of throwing reams of famous faces to fix what will forever be broken.
Extending a cycle that’s already included “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve” — it’s Marshall’s own “Three Colors Trilogy,” only with poor camera framing and Jason Sudeikis rapping — “Mother’s Day” offers another listless shuffle through half-hearted subplots. Jennifer Aniston huffs and puffs as a flibbertigibbet freaked that her ex (Timothy Olyphant!) has just married a young hottie (Shay Mitchell). Marshall’s “Pretty Woman” alum Julia Roberts dons a gross red bob to glower as an infomercial god who hesitantly reunites with the daughter she gave up for adoption (Britt Robertson). Sudeikis plays a bearded widower who can't even with his teenage daughter, which at one point includes awkwardly purchasing tampons.
Actually, when summarized they all sound dark, almost Bergmanesque. They’re not played that way. Marshall and his four writers treat each storyline like light time-killers, to be filmed as quickly as possible. That even goes for the most topical thread, which finds Kate Hudson as a woman who’s never told her Red State parents (Robert Pine and Character Actress Margo Martindale) that she married a non-American (Aasif Mandvi). In fact, they’ve been in the dark for so long they don’t even know they have a mixed-race grandson. Ditto that their other daughter, played by Sarah Chalke, married a woman.
Let’s be generous: Interracial and same-sex couples are practically verboten in dumb rom-coms. An otherwise anodyne multiplex number in the tank for diversity and that also imagines an alternate universe in which probable Trump voters can be de-bigoted isn’t to be written off. After all, stupid movies are a great way to sneak in progressive thought, changing the culture by stealth.
Then again, even this thread gets a surreal, out-of-nowhere set piece involving a four-way argument and an out-of-control Winnebago. As in every other scene, the actors look lost and under-directed, as though they weren’t even given a script — just a vague description of some fit of strained goofiness that they then had to divine into being. It would be a shock if Marshall ever shot a second take.
Pretty, famous faces aside, this is very much an old man’s film — an autumnal work from a longtime content-maker chugging stubbornly away at his craft. It’s almost endearingly terrible — a jalopy held together by Scotch tape and bubble gum, made more out of obligation than passion. It seems beamed from another era, when movie stars still ruled the box office, including a couple of the actors here. Roberts, Hudson and Aniston no longer carry the same clout, and Marshall is no longer the king of the rom-com. He's someone who lost his groove but still feels compelled to do it anyway. At this point he’s just doing his thing. It is what it is, even if what it is is borderline unwatchable.