Over the last few years, the king of romantic dramedy, Garry Marshall, has spent all of his energy making huge ensemble films revolving around a specific holiday. First up was Valentine’s Day, which, for the time, was a coup of big names and big talent (this was before Marvel hit their Avengers stride). Following that up with New Year’s Eve was almost a given. Marshall doesn’t need the money, experience or clout. He’s been part of the business for a long (long) time, building relationships and earning the ability to do whatever his heart desires, even if that means creating throw-away films with all of his friends in tow. Both holiday-themed films did well enough to give Marshall enough credit for a third go-around with Mother’s Day, completing what has to be one of the oddest trilogies in cinema history.
I like that Marshall stepped out of the norm when crafting these films. He could have easily gone with more recognizable holidays, like Christmas and Halloween (or even Thanksgiving), but let’s be honest — those have been done to death. Focusing his films on holidays that have less presence in film was a very smart move. It mixes things up while still promoting the love, honor and respect (and the magic) that major holiday films yield. However, Marshall may have stepped a little too far out to left field when choosing Mother’s Day, a holiday that I’m not even sure really is a holiday. But it’s a day that helps remind us of where we came from and honor one of the only people in the world that all but loves us unconditionally. The entirety of the holiday consists mostly of going out to dinner, sending flowers and gooey cards, or as Jennifer Aniston’s mother of two sons (Caleb Brown and Brandon Spink) likes most, being surprised with burnt pancakes in bed. So how is it that Marshall can focus an entire two hours around this special day? That’s easy: several interconnected stories that deal with love and relationships that span a different set of generations.
Let us count the ways:
Leading the batch is Sandy, (Aniston), a mother of two sons (yes, repetition of this fact is for a purpose) who finds out a couple of days before the title holiday that her ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) has eloped with a much younger girl (Shay Mitchell). As she fights to make sure her competition doesn’t encroach on her special day, she uses her energy to compete for their affection and their time. Aniston is very amusing as the harried mother, no better than when she talks to herself in insane little rants about her ex-husband and his new trophy wife.
Next up is Jason Sudeikis as Bradley, a grieving father who lost his wife (Jennifer Garner) and hasn’t found a way to move on just yet, even as his daughters (Jessi Case and Ella Anderson) seemed to have done just that. His eldest, Rachel (Case), in fact, has a crush on a boy (Grayson Russell) and Bradley isn’t quite sure he should allow her to date him. Sudeikes does a terrific job handling both sides of the coin, adding just the right amount of comedy to the underrated dramatic gravitas he conveys. The group of women that continually try and hook him up with PTA mothers during their time at his gym, though, do get a little annoying and just may be the weakest link in the movie. But they’re tolerable enough to find some amusement in their excitement.
Then there’s Jesse (Kate Hudson), a married mother who has yet to tell her parents (Margo Martindale and Robert Pine) she’s married or a mother. There seems to have been a falling out between them as she married a man of Indian decent (Aasif Mandvi), who they oddly believe to be a Muslim. On the other end of the spectrum, Jesse’s sister, Gabi (Sarah Chalke), is a lesbian who has yet to come out to her parents. So when the parents show up for a surprise visit to celebrate Mother’s Day, you can imagine what happens… though it happens too quickly. For someone that ushered in a lot of comedy tropes across television in the seventies and eighties, I expected the ruse to last much longer. The racist bigotry of the parents does get old as well, not because it’s unfunny, or because it’s politically incorrect, or whatever. It’s because the jokes and the references are confusing. Whether that’s part of the joke (that the parents are so ignorant, they can’t differentiate Indians from Afghans) or not, it feels intellectually lazy. But with all of the other stories pulling for your focus, it still works for what it is.
Rounding out the batch of stories is Kristin (Britt Robertson), a new mother who’s afraid of commitment with her baby daddy, Zack (Jack Whitehall), a British comic trying to find his big break. As he mentions in his stand-up routine, he’s asked her many times to marry, but she constantly says no, not because she doesn’t love him, but because, based on her past, she’s afraid he’ll leave her. She has to come to terms with her abandonment issues before she can move forward with her own life. Julia Roberts also makes an appearance as a QVC-type host selling mood-pendant necklaces who may be related to, or have a connection with, one or more of the above stories in some way.
Though most of the stories are rather predictable and seem to wrap up either too cleanly or too quickly, I have to admit; I have a soft spot for Marshall’s brand of sentimentality, and Mother’s Day fits nicely in Marshall’s repertoire of sentimentality and loving passion toward the female persuasion. He has a knack for creating terrific chemistry between his actors, no matter how cheesy, off-the-wall or saccharin the script may become, mostly because he doesn’t just direct; he creates a family. A lot of the actors (most notably Hector Elizondo, which as the “and as always” credit at the end of the film makes clear, has been in every Marshall directed film) have worked with Marshall on multiple projects, and I have to believe that a lot of the crew are also returning players. That bond bleeds through in everything he does, whether it be a classic like Pretty Woman, or a fun little getaway, an it’s because of this that no matter what Marshall chooses to do with his career, he will always have a place as one of the most prolific romantic/comedy/drama auteurs of our time.
My Grade: A-
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