'Mother's Day' means well but misses its mark

Posted April 30

“MOTHER'S DAY” — 2 stars — Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis; PG-13 (language and some suggestive material); in general release

If director Garry Marshall's "Mother's Day" is meant to be a reflection of the modern state of motherhood, a pretty depressing image is staring back at us. Like Marshall's "New Year's Eve" and "Valentine's Day," "Mother's Day" uses an ensemble cast to deconstruct the ups and downs of the holiday and everything it stands for, and there isn't a mother in the group who isn't wrestling with some form of death, divorce or serious family dysfunction.

The closest thing to a protagonist would be Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorcee interior designer with two boys who was doing a pretty decent job of keeping things together until she finds out her ex, Henry (Timothy Olyphant), has married a 20-something model named Tina (Shay Mitchell). This leads to one public display after another, and almost kills her job interview with a mood-pendant-peddling TV shopping mogul named Miranda (Julia Roberts).

Elsewhere, a young mother named Jesse (Kate Hudson) is hiding the existence of her Indian husband Russell (Aasif Mandvi) and their biracial son from her stereotypically bigoted parents (Margo Martindale and Robert Pine). But she's not the only member of her family with a big secret. Her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) is living next door with her life partner Max (Cameron Esposito) and their sperm donor son, and Mom and Dad are equally oblivious to their arrangement.

Then we have an even younger mother, Kristin (Britt Robertson), who has been together with her boyfriend, Zack (Jack Whitehall), for five years. They have a daughter, and Zack is anxious to seal the deal, but Kristin has cold feet stemming from being abandoned by her own teenage mother as a baby.

Finally, Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has been struggling to be both mommy and daddy to his two daughters ever since their mother, Dana (Jennifer Garner), who served in the Marine Corps, died a year earlier. All the ladies at his gym are ready to set him up with a laundry list of eligible single moms, but Bradley is too busy rewatching old home movies and trying to figure out how to manage his oldest daughter's first boyfriend to be bothered.

Naturally, all these characters are interconnected, and "Mother's Day" is essentially two hours of vignettes that move along as their various conflicts come to a head. The collage does a pretty good job of touching on a variety of challenges, but in its effort to refute the traditional mother stereotype, it almost goes so far as to pretend the nuclear family doesn't exist anymore. After all, even ABC's "Modern Family" has Julie Bowen's Claire.

"Mother's Day" certainly means well, and injects some nice moments in all the chaos. But like in most ensemble cast films, the breadth comes at the expense of the depth, and the myriad plot lines intercut so quickly that at times it’s easy to forget about several characters entirely.

The cast does its best with what they are given, even if what they are given are often flat jokes. Sudeikis may be the most sympathetic character as the only genuine victim among the leads, but Marshall tries to find everyone's good side (including, gratefully, Jesse's parents).

Still, in its haste to account for the perils of family, "Mother's Day" never quite manages to celebrate motherhood. Families are made up of imperfect people in imperfect relationships, sure, but Marshall's film feels more like a recovery group than breakfast in bed from the kids.

“Mother's Day” is rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material; running time: 118 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.


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