A few times a year a film is released that is so bad, I almost feel terrible reviewing it. Mother’s Day is that film. It is heartless, pandering, sloppy, joyless, and so drenched in product placement it is likely already profitable before it ever hits the screen. Audiences who like a shred of cohesive story telling or characterization, or even a chuckle during a supposed comedy, should stay very far away.
The latest holiday turned into an ensemble cast film, Mother’s Day waters down the already paltry legacy that Garry Marshall’s other holiday films have left (Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve). The film begins by blatantly introducing our characters in a rapid-fire parade of exposition. Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) looks at his late wife’s gravestone, lays down flowers, and says with a sigh, “I can’t believe it’s been a year.” Gabi (Sarah Chalke) says to her wife, “Hey, here comes my sister!” as her sister Jesse (Kate Hudson) strolls up their driveway. There is no subtlety or attempt at letting us get to know these characters organically. In other words: we are not allowed to learn – we are told. This condescending attitude from the filmmaker towards the audience does not necessarily make a film instantly terrible, but it is not a good sign.
Once we get to know all of these characters – and there are a lot of them – we get to see the ways that their stories have been stretched paper thin in order to make their lives intersect. Jess is both old friends with Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) and knows Kristin (Britt Robertson) through mommy and me class. But waddaya know, Sandy also goes to Bradley’s gym. And isn’t is amazing that the woman selling jewelry on nearly every television we see, Miranda (Julia Roberts), hires Sandy to design her new studio set, and is Kristin’s long-lost biological mother? These reveals are meant to be pleasant surprises for the audience, but the lack of depth and meaning to these relationships means that they are just a smattering of convenient coincidences, and not a sign of the shared human experience.
In addition to the characters and their relationships feeling like all four writers (Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Anya Kochoff, and Matthew Walker) cared about them as much as a college senior cares about their final paper, the timeline of the story makes no sense. The night before Mother’s Day, Sandy’s kids go off to a Foo Fighters concert with their dad and new step-mom (Timothy Olyphant and Shay Mitchell) only to be back at mom’s house to surprise her with pancakes in the morning. And then, later that afternoon, Sandy brings them back to dad’s again. It is clear that I somehow paid more attention to the path of these families than the filmmakers did.
As a lighthearted family comedy, my expectations were fairly low in regards to the quality of the humor in Mother’s Day. I did not expect for it to be this bad. Take, for instance, a shopping trip gone awry. Bradley suffers some significant embarrassment at buying tampons for his teenage daughter. We are expected not only to believe that within a year of his wife’s death that this is the first request for period supplies, but also that a grown man who owns a gym would be embarrassed to simply purchase health product. But Mother’s Day not only draws this lame joke out to an entire scene, it revisits his allegedly hilarious shame later in the film. When the film then asks us to laugh at Bradley’s rendition of “The Humpty Dance” at a karaoke party, I lost my patience. Is the joke here that a suburban white dad was performing a hip-hop song? Because if that is the case we have seen this done dozens of times before in much better films.
Sandy’s multiple trips to the tip-top of her soapbox to espouse the gospel of the underappreciated mother are also unwelcome distractions from the unlovable film. At several points in the film she is given the chance to spout off her motherly martyrdom to her undeserving ex-husband, with the expectation that the audience is there cheering her along. Her arguments, though occasionally valid, come from nowhere and are inconsistent with the plot and with her character. Were I a mother, I would be insulted by the pandering nature of these simplistic diatribes as they fail to further the dialogue of modern motherhood even in the slightest.
My last, but not least, overwhelming issue with Mother’s Day is the product placement. I know that financially most films have products featured on screen to create revenue for the production. I get it. But when the companies are thrown at us, name-dropped, and held above the characters and the plot, I have a problem with that. When Bradley discusses getting his flowers at Pro-Flowers, with the company’s logo and URL blanketing the room, you know that they have gone too far. From cars, to clothing, and flowers it is clear that Mother’s Day has already paid for itself, and that we – the audience – are not needed.
There is no need for me to continue beating this thankfully dead horse. Mother’s Day is awful.
Director: Garry Marshall
Film Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2016
Distributor: Open Road Films
- - 1/101/10