Despite an army of appealing actors in its large ensemble cast, the rom-com “Mother’s Day” is startlingly unappealing. Clumsily edited and culturally tone deaf, it’s more obsessed with the titular holiday than even most mothers would find reasonable.
Whenever presented with two storytelling options – between, say, subtlety and obviousness – the movie runs, swiftly and consistently, away from nuance and toward predictability. Among other sins, “Mother’s Day” features a character with abandonment issues who announces, “I have abandonment issues.” Then there’s the running gag about a Mother’s Day parade float shaped like a uterus. (Nothing says comedy like a womb on wheels.)
At one point, Jennifer Garner sings a Huey Lewis and the News song, in what feels like the whitest moment in the history of cinema. That is, until roughly 45 minutes later, when Jason Sudeikis does a karaoke version of “The Humpty Dance” while wearing salmon-colored pants.
This thing is a mess.
Though not technically part of a franchise, “Mother’s Day” feels like it is. That’s because director Garry Marshall’s two most recent films – “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve” – also center on holidays. Like them, “Mother’s Day” jams too many characters and too many storylines into a single movie, relying on jokes that were stale sitcom fodder two decades ago.
“Mother’s Day” frantically hopscotches among multiple narratives: Jennifer Aniston is a mom who has nervous breakdowns in grocery store parking lots after her ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) marries a younger woman. Sudeikis is a former Marine trying to be strong for his two daughters after losing his wife (Garner). An aspiring comic (Jack Whitehall) wants to marry his girlfriend/baby-mama (Britt Robertson), but can’t because she fears commitment.
Julia Roberts is a successful businesswoman and author whose career obsessiveness masks a long-held secret. And Kate Hudson’s Jesse – happily married with a child – has hidden that information from her racist parents, because her husband (Aasif Mandvi) is Indian.
That last plot thread is easily the film’s biggest misstep.
It’s hard to say what’s most offensive about it: Is it the fact that Jesse’s mother – Margo Martindale, in a role several sedimentary layers beneath her talents – refers to the husband as a “towelhead”? Or maybe that, as racist white people, Jesse’s parents are, naturally, from Texas, where they live in a trailer park?
Five people, including Marshall, have story and/or screenwriting credits on “Mother’s Day.” But the way this film is written, it’s hard to believe that any of them have ever visited a trailer park or spent time with an Indian-American. I’m not sure they’ve ever observed actual humans.
Despite the many obstacles in their way, the cast members still throw themselves gamely into the material. Occasionally, they even shine in spite of it. Whitehall, for instance, is charming in a scene that forces him to take the stage at a comedy club with his baby daughter in his arms.
As for Roberts, she turns on the tears – and that high-wattage smile of hers – in a way that never lets you forget she’s a movie star, darn it. (Even if she is forced to wear a wig that’s the hair equivalent of mom jeans.)
But even she can’t save “Mother’s Day” from itself. When Aniston’s character casually mentions Groundhog Day and Flag Day in conversation, I immediately thought to myself, “Be quiet, you, or Garry Marshall will get even more bad ideas.”
One star. Rated PG-13. At area theaters. Contains coarse language and some suggestive material. 118 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.