Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Chalke, Aasif Mandvi, Britt Robertson, Jack Whitehall.
Director: Garry Marshall
Garry Marshall’s Mother’s Day is an ensemble comedy in the same style as the director’s previous films Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, a series of vignettes featuring multiple characters in different stories revolving around the significance of a particular day.
We have Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) a divorced single woman with two children, anxious about the fact that her ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) has a younger, prettier wife. We have Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke), rebellious daughters of conservative Texas parents who have married and formed relationships with individuals their parents hate. Then we have the story of Miranda Collins (Julia Roberts) who appears regularly as a TV show host that dispenses advice on motherhood and relationships. Related to that is the story of Kristin (Britt Robertson), who cannot fully commit to a marriage with her long-time partner with whom she has a child, on account of unresolved issues with her past. We also have Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) a single father and widower, who balances children, work and grief.
It’s a truism that actresses have a smaller window of good roles than actors do. Mother’s Day is proof of this in that it features three female leads Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson who used to be among the most famous actresses of their time, receiving high salaries but have rarely appeared in good roles in recent films. Now that they finally get female-centered movies, it’s a movie that appeals to the perception of audiences that these actresses have become older and replaced by younger and prettier girls, that the former romantic leads and single woman have become suburban soccer moms and that their main problems and complaints are generally good for cheap comedy since their problems are so minor it can be easily resolved by trivial sentiments and banal epiphanies.
Watching Mother’s Day I went in thinking “another women’s comedy about women’s problem” and it terrible that nothing made me feel differently. We have countless movies about male angst and commitment in a variety of genres, but in these films the filmmakers, being male themselves, make the characters more relatable and empathetic than Garry Marshall does in this film. The level of pity, grief mongering and special pleading for the troubles of working mothers and how they are unappreciated would be believable if the filmmakers didn’t cut each time they were going to explore the issue, to a funny scene. It would also be believable if the male characters in the film, with the exception of Jason Sudeikis’ grieving father, were believable foils for the women characters. Instead we are left with caricatures.
Jennifer Aniston has the most screen time and the best written character. Her most recent appearance, as a snide psychoanalyst in She’s Funny That Way proved her rare gift in comedy which she brings to this film as well. Her character is not a very flattering one but Aniston approaches the role with charm and fun. Her character is heroic but she is also by turns petty, annoying and clumsy, and it’s not easy to balance all these aspects cohesively in a single role.
The other actors are decent given that they have little screentime and mostly play a set of caricatures. Julia Roberts plays a wealthy female celebrity with her own empire. Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke are essentially a set of unsympathetic clichés who ultimately don’t even command their vignette with the finale being resolved by two sets of grandmas calling for peace. Mother’s Day shows the pitfalls of facile sentimentalism to tackle serious problems and using the same to defuse it in a way that is too pat and unconvincing. Structurally it does not do justice to its multiple vignettes in limited runtime, and despite a good performance by Jennifer Aniston, there isn’t enough in the film to redeem its trite depiction of suburban America.