The funniest moment in "Mother's Day" arrives during its end-credits blooper reel. Julia Roberts, sporting a ginger-helmeted fright wig, sits in a cafe, staring forlornly into the distance as a seemingly never-ending locomotive barrels past the window. Finally she breaks. "That's one really fucking long train!" she exclaims. Roberts' honest, off-the-cuff reaction is startling precisely because the film preceding it has been such a wasteland of painful, prefabricated inauthenticity. Director Garry Marshall's previous all-star ensemble holiday comedies (2010's "Valentine's Day
" and 2011's "New Year's Eve
") had plenty of critical detractors, but they were innocuous enough and at least juggled their various storylines with an even-keeled coherence. His third such effort is the opposite of a charm, more akin to an uneaten breakfast in bed that has sat for a month and turned rancid. The actors have been great before and will no doubt climb out of the ashes of this wayward fiasco, but it is difficult not to feel sorry for most of them as they try to make work material that simply does not. Blame screenwriters Anya Kochoff (2005's "Monster-in-Law
") and Matt Walker & Tom Hines, yes, but also light a candle for the 81-year-old Marshall, a filmmaker who in his glory made such classics as 1987's "Overboard," 1988's "Beaches," 1990's "Pretty Woman," and even 1999's sorely undervalued "The Other Sister
." Whatever magic he once had behind the camera is nowhere to be found here.
Set in and around Atlanta as the namesake Hallmark holiday draws near, "Mother's Day" criss-crosses three ham-fisted storylines and a fourth that sometimes, against all odds, rings ever so slightly truer thanks to the energetic, typically nuanced work of Jennifer Aniston (2013's "We're the Millers
"). Aniston plays Sandy, an aspiring interior designer and divorced mother of two who is thrown for a loop when her still-friendly ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) announces he recently eloped with the much-younger Tina (Shay Mitchell). For a woman who had held out hope there might still be a chance to rekindle her relationship, she now suddenly is faced with having to share kids Peter (Brandon Spink) and Mikey (Caleb Brown) with their hip, Twitter-happy new stepmother. Even when faced with a bad script, Aniston can usually be counted on to elevate it. She does that here, turning a pat plot thread into a chance to give it a certain sincere reality. Two scenesone where she lets out her frustrations in her car and another where she disbelievingly reacts after receiving sage advice from a party clown (Matt Walker) are the only two laughs the movie proper earns. It's all because of Aniston, and it doesn't hurt that hers is the only halfway respectably developed character in sight.
The rest of the dopey intersecting narratives are offensive in how poorly they are handled. In one, next-door neighbors and sisters Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke) struggle with coming clean to their fiercely Red Stater parents Flo (Margo Martindale) and Earl (Robert Pine) about their choice in spouses: Jesse to the Indian Russell (Aasif Mandvi) and Gabi to her same-sex wife Max (Cameron Esposito). Casual racism and gross stereotyping ensues, all of it played for disingenuous would-be humor and none of it willing to legitimately confront Flo and Earl's discriminatory profiling or their path to understanding. Meanwhile, widowed father Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is having a tough time raising daughters Rachel (Jessi Case) and Vicky (Ella Anderson) as their first Mother's Day without their mom (Jennifer Garner) approaches. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot quite shake his grief, wallowing night after night in a video recording he has of her singing karaoke to Huey Lewis and the News' "Doing It All for My Baby." Cue the maudlin scene where Rachel exasperatedly tells him, "We're all sad, Dad, but for how long?" And then there's new mother Kristin (Britt Robertson), skittish about getting married to boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) because of some hooey about being adopted and not knowing who her mother is. "I have abandonment issues," she explains, not intending for it to be the unintentional groan-inducing line it is. Oh, and let's not forget Miranda Collins (Julia Roberts), an author, entrepreneur and Home Shopping Network host who, with a faint glisten in her eyes, claims she has no children. Uh-huh.
Choppy, haphazardly manipulative and shamelessly pandering, "Mother's Day" sputters along from story to story and flimsy character construct to flimsy character construct with no apparent sense of pacing, grasp of the passage of time, or awareness of its own zero brain-celled insipidness. This is the kind of movie where everyone lives in beautiful, large, impeccably decorated and furnished homes, yet no one is actually seen working except for Bradley, whose gym ownership must be exceptionally lucrative. Over and over, the camera lingers on extras and one-line-apiece day players (clearly Marshall's family and friends), none of whom can act to save their life. In one ridiculous scene, an elderly woman wanders into frame during a confrontation with police in a suburban cul-de-sac and is seen getting her mail. The film focuses on her rather than the lead actors to the point where the viewer waits for her to somehow play a part in the goings-on. Instead, she disappears right after, never to be spoken to, heard from or dealt with. Were that not enough, the picture takes time out to laugh at a gay man who likes Miranda's jewelry line, an overweight guy in the audience at Zack's stand-up show, various minorities ("You got a towel head for a husband?!" Flo blurts out upon seeing Russell), and even a little person who owns a bar namedwait for itShorty's Saloon. In 2016, who thought these intolerant, tacky cheap shots would be the least bit amusing? This stuff wouldn't have worked fifty years ago, or ever.
A slice-of-life celebrating mothers should have been a can't-miss prospect, its built-in target audience ready to fall in love and have their emotions ignited. "Mother's Day" gets it all wrong, the incontrovertible bond between parents and children handled with such undernourished triteness as to become forgettable while the film is still playing out. Save for aforementioned bright spot Jennifer Aniston, the cast is left cruelly stranded with nothing of interest to do or say. Kate Hudson (2011's "Something Borrowed
") receives ample screen time as Jesse, yet not one moment makes an impression; her attempt at offering an olive branch to her parents, like most else, is merely an opening for them to say things about Jesse's racially mixed toddler son such as, "I get why they call him Tannerhe's a little dark!" As Bradley, Jason Sudeikis (2015's "Sleeping with Other People
") certainly tries, but he is no match for the inane things he is asked to do in front of the camera (rapping and freaking out over the thought of buying his teenage daughter tampons come to mind). And then there's Julia Roberts (2013's "August: Osage County
"), as Miranda, strapped into an awful wig for no decipherable reason as she hawks her mood pendants in front of the HSN cameras and sits in chairs while other people talk at her. Almost entirely bereft of charm or credibility, "Mother's Day" is so out of touch it might as well take place on a faraway planet where the inhabitants look human and have names, but are otherwise blank robotic slates. Gifting this movie to one's own mother for the holiday should be reserved for those holding a diabolical grudge against her.