I actually love so-bad-they’re-good guilty pleasure movies. You know the ones: low budget, poorly acted, and tongue-in-cheek. “Mother’s Day” is not one of those movies, it’s just a bad movie. It’s filmed well, has a talented cast, and clearly had a good budget, but the script ruined everything.
Garry Marshall, director of rom-com classics like “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” has dedicated the last six years of his life making anthology films about lesser holidays with recognizable actors, where everyone is somehow interconnected, white (with the exception of exactly two speaking minority characters), upper middle class, and able to fall in love by the end.
The film itself is shot lovingly with bright lights and soft colors, the actors are trying their best and have proven themselves to be capable comedic actors. But this couldn’t save a script that relies on poorly drawn tropes: the scorned first wife, the widow, the redneck parents and the long lost child.
“Mother’s Day” focuses on five stories about Atlanta residents that all come to a resolution on the holiday. There’s Sandy (Jennifer Aniston, playing yet another divorced woman) vying for her children’s affection after her ex-husband’s (Timothy Olyphant) marriage to Tina (Shay Mitchell), a younger woman. Aniston mostly looks tightly wound, like she’s either about to murder someone or dissolve into a puddle of tears. There are countless jokes about how young and irresponsible Tina is. But Tina seems like the best stepmother ever; she likes the kids, takes them to a Foo Fighters concert, bakes cookies, and teaches them guitar. The whole story is a non-issue turned into a crisis.
Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widow trying to raise his two daughters. He’s still grieving by watching videos of his wife (Jennifer Garner) singing karaoke, but his daughters and his friends are ready to move on. Bradley owns a gym and his clients/friends are trying to set him up with anyone. One of his nameless friends (Loni Love) serves as the only speaking black character in the film (which is ridiculous considering that Atlanta is over 50% black).
His daughter Rachel (Jessi Cook) complains and eye-rolls about everything, asks for a car, and falls in love for the first time. His other daughter Vicky (Ella Anderson) hangs around in the background and doesn’t really do anything. When Mother’s Day comes along, Bradley decides to celebrate for the sake of his daughters and flirts with Sandy at the hospital after a karaoke-related injury.
The third story deals with Miranda (Julia Roberts), a home shopping magnate who is all alone on Mother’s Day until her long-lost daughter Kristin (Britt Robertson) shows up at her book signing. Now Miranda has a family and attends her daughter’s impromptu wedding to Zack (Jack Whitehall), a standup comic. Prior to the meeting, Kristin refuses to marry Zack because of her “abandonment issues,” despite the fact that they’ve been together for years and have a child. This story would be the worst in the film if it weren’t for this movie’s savior: Julia Roberts’ impossibly shiny orange wig. If there was a hall of fame for bad movie wigs it would be there, sitting next to any hair piece John Travolta and Nicolas Cage have ever worn.
The last big story focuses on Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi’s (Sarah Chalke) estranged relationship with their parents (Margo Martindale and Robert Pine), two racist and homophobic Texans, who discover their daughters are married to an Indian man (Aasif Mandvi) and a woman (Cameron Esposito) after dropping in on them. This story was the most disappointing of all. The cast and their comedic talent is wasted thanks to cliched and clueless jokes. Aasif Mandvi’s character is referred to as a “houseboy” and “towelhead,” is almost arrested for kidnapping the family as they all take an RV ride together to face their problems, and his child is referred to as darker than his mother multiple times.
At the story’s turning point, we see Jesse’s mother-in-law (Anoush NaVart) Skype-ing with her mother saying that she hated Jesse at first because she wasn’t Indian, as if to say “see minorities can be prejudiced too.” It’s almost a slap in the face from an 81-year-old man and his three white writers. That’s the biggest problem with this movie. It’s so old-fashioned, unaware, and saccharine that mocking it feels almost unfair. Had Marshall worked with writers willing to write in more than one-liners and old jokes, willing to add dimension to their characters, “Mother’s Day” could have been decent.
RATING: 2 out of 5
Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Ron Batzdorf