Garry Marshall has left multiple marks on the pop culture landscape, typically through his work as the sitcom mastermind behind Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. As the director of feature films, Marshall has specialized in broad romantic comedies with a number of hits, including Pretty Woman. His recent output as a director have been sprawling ensembles featuring a roster of star actors who all find valuable life lessons around holidays in New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. The latest holiday to get the Marshall treatment is Mother’s Day, a sappy comedy that barely resembles anything like reality. Perhaps an octogenarian white male filmmaker who has live most of his adult life in affluence isn’t the best choice for a comedic examination and celebration of motherhood in the 21st Century.
Marshall and screenwriters Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Anya Kochoff, and Matthew Walker take their overstuffed story of characters in a series of awkward situations before they realize the true meaning of Mother’s Day and finding true happiness. There’s Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), the divorcee who is struggling to keep it all together when her ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) marries a younger woman (Shay Mitchell); Jesse (Kate Hudson) lives next door to her sister (Sarah Chalke) and her partner (Cameron Esposito), both have tenuous relationships with their Tea Party mother (Margo Martindale), who frowns upon lesbianism and Jesse’s marriage to an Indian man (Aasif Mandvi); goodhearted widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) struggle with fatherhood following the death of his wife a year prior; finally, there’s the young couple of Zack (Jack Whitehall), an aspiring stand-up comedian, and his girlfriend Kristin (Britt Robertson), who hovers over her young daughter due to her abandonment issues over being adopted. All of these stories are intertwined with segments from the Home Shopping Network show starring Miranda (Julia Roberts), a career woman with no kids at all.
Look, if your mother is over 45, white, and has a predilection for extremely broad, predictable sitcom humor, bite the bullet and take her to Mother’s Day. But if your mother has an interesting in anything remotely thought provoking, take her anywhere but Mother’s Day. Marshall’s saccharine sensibilities lead to a movie that features nothing even surprising in the slightest. The film concludes by checking off a number of boxes that were set up early on, and always in the most obvious fashion. Whatever you think the conclusion for each of these inane segments is the actual conclusion each and every time.
Liberal hand-wringing is in abundance in Mother’s Day, with a self-congratulatory tone to its cartoonish presentation of social progress. The racist Tea Party parents from Texas are as inspired by reality as much as Ray Wise’s sneering ACLU lawyer in God’s Not Dead 2, and Marshall and company make sure to pat each other on the back by having the racism take a backseat to the warm feeling of becoming a grandparent. There’s a farcical coming out scene where the racist mother is presented with the reality that one of her daughters is in a committed relationship with another woman and her other daughter is in a committed relationship with an Indian man. This subplot, by the way, is resolved when everyone reaches understanding following an exaggerated RV chase. (I don’t remember if there was a banjo playing.) Perhaps in Marshall’s heyday of the late ‘80s this might’ve been somewhat progressive, but playing out in 2016 renders this absurd scenario resoundingly out of date and out of touch. Worst of all, any changes that characters experience come about as the obvious motivations of writers trying not to demonize anyone, allowing for easy character redemption while attempting to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
That pandering to conservative audiences extends to Sudeikis’ widower, a former Marine whose wife was also a Marine killed in the line of duty. How she came to her end is never revealed, and the inclusion of their past military service serves no real purpose from a story standpoint. It’s just all part of Garry Marshall’s attempts to make this inoffensive piece of fluff play in the flyover states. Marshall won’t extend any credit to a conservative, pro-military audience that he can’t operate these moments without emotionally manipulative caricatures.
Every character in Mother’s Day lives in relative affluence, each with the lone exception of the young couple living in expansive suburban homes. The film also suffers from a failed attempt at a multiethnic story, with all of the emphasis placed upon the lily-white mothers at the center of the film. Like everything in Mother’s Day, there’s a very concerted effort to be inoffensive and broad, which only leads to a movie where every story beat, every joke, and every other little aspect is culled from idyllic sitcom fantasy where the troubles of reality never intrude – not even for that “very special episode.” Even the dialogue about technology and social media is woefully out of touch, including a scene where the young trophy wife tells Aniston’s character to “Tweet at me,” a phrase that nobody has ever said when taking their stepchildren for the evening.
Mothers do it all for their children, and their concern and compassion never dissipates over time. Theirs is a thankless job with a token holiday of modest recognition. There is room out there for a movie that comically explores the joys and terrors of motherhood, but Mother’s Day isn’t it. This is the kind of movie that makes one wonder when the last time Garry Marshall had an interaction with an everyday human being. Marshall has made another sprawling ensemble that is overstuffed with trite sitcom elements and enough artificial sweetener to make anyone gag. Like its sitcom forebears, Mother’s Day has a static, garish look that is aggressively anti-cinematic. A womb float for a Mother’s Day parade (is that a thing?) appears as a sight gag only for the characters to simply blow off the parade because this is a movie with so much inanity happening at any given moment that it is simply incapable of bringing any coherency to its idiocy. The mothers of America deserve something so much better, more substantive than Mother’s Day.
A sprawling ensemble of inanity, Garry Marshall’s Mother’s Day is rambling mess that will only appeal to older mothers with a preference for predictable, broad sitcom humor.