Saturday, July 23, 2016

R.I.P. Garry Marshall: Mother's Day Is An Unremarkable End To A Brilliant Career

The Good: Acting and directing are fine
The Bad: No memorable characters, Thematically monolithic, Lack of zest or cleverness
The Basics: In a subpar dramedy about mothers, characters are mashed together unmemorably in what became an unfortunate final film for director Garry Marshall.

During my month sabbatical, I missed writing tributes to all of the significant individuals who died, most notably, actor Anton Yelchin. As, possibly, the end of that Rule Of Three, Garry Marshall died a few days ago and I could not let his death pass without viewing some of his works. Garry Marshall effectively launched the screen careers of two of my favorite actors: Robin Williams and Anne Hathaway. Without Marshall, Williams would have remained one of my very favorite stand-up comics and while Anne Hathaway probably would have become a superstar in her own right, based upon her talent, but it helped when she was given the starring role in Marshall's adaptation The Princess Diaries (reviewed here!). In the last few years, the comedic writer in Garry Marshall had surrendered to masterful director . . . who was, sadly, rehashing the same film over and over again. Marshall's final film, Mother's Day is essentially Marshall's final reworking of his prior film Valentine's Day (reviewed here!).

Unfortunately, Mother's Day capped off Marshall's initially creative career with yet another attempt to create a box office success by throwing together as many a-list Hollywood actors in a character-packed film that ties together loosely-related characters in a narrative that is more about the surprise of how it comes together than about anything else. Mother's Day mashes together Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and the omnipresent Hector Elizondo, with a surprising number of new, younger, actors to flesh out a story of families in Atlanta coming together in the week before Mother's Day.

Opening with Sandy, who is surprised when her ex-husband is in her house with their child and his friends, she is told by Henry that he needs to talk to her. Sandy's inkling that he might want to reunite with her is dashed when he tells her he eloped, with a vastly younger woman. Jesse and her sister Gabi are living a lie from their estranged mother. Gabi is a lesbian who never came out to her parents and Jesse married Russell, whose family is from India, who her mother despised when they were still in contact. Widower Bradley has two daughters and he runs a gym, while Miranda prioritized career over having children.

Gabi and Jesse's lives become vastly more complicated when their redneck parents arrive as a surprise and they have to come clean with them. Sandy, freaking out about her ex-husband's new wife and the way Tina has inserted herself into her children's lives, freaks out in front of Bradley at the supermarket and Bradley - who is concerned about the boy his daughter is dating - notices her at his gym. When a girl approaches Miranda at a book signing and tells her she is her daughter, Miranda's life is turned upside down as well.

Mother's Day is one of those unfortunate films that lacks a spark. Works that Marshall wrote tended to have a sense of patter to them; humor and realism that were distinct. Mother's Day is a troublingly flat film. In fact, having just finished watching the film, there was not a single line I could recall or that I remember laughing at. This is especially troubling, as interspersed through some of the stories are sets from a comedy competition. When the stand-up comics in a film fail to illicit a laugh, that is not a good sign.

One of the fundamental problems with Mother's Day is that the movie is overstuffed. The entire plotline with Zack Zim, his bride-to-be and her sudden relationship with Miranda, is both cluttered and unnecessary. It is also the source of the film's most problematic lines. For sure, Mother's Day is a film that is exactly what it appears to be; a celebration of women who choose to be mothers. But, for a movie that is filled with a wide variety of characters, it lacks any complexity or subtlety. The racists encounter their grandchildren and can't hate them they way they have estranged their daughters, the mother who is protective of her children is a good influence on the single father and the young man idolizes his wife-to-be because, as a mother "she knows" . . . everything about their child. Mother's Day plays into the narcissism surrounding motherhood, as opposed to ever challenging it. The film's least-attached character, Miranda, is still a productive member of society - she prioritized career and is respectable, even though she gave up her daughter.

My point here is that mothers are idolized in Mother's Day in a way that is not universally-relatable, at least this day in age.

Mother's Day lacks memorable characters, but the performances are fine and Garry Marshall managed to get decent performances out of the young, unestablished members of the cast. But the movie is not engaging or held together in any compelling way. Instead, the performers do adequate jobs of representing the parts they were given, but those roles are not inherently interesting to watch or return to. That makes for a sad coda to a brilliant career for Garry Marshall.

For other works featuring Jennifer Aniston, please visit my reviews of:
Horrible Bosses 2
She's Funny That Way
Life Of Crime
We're The Millers
Horrible Bosses
Just Go With It
The Bounty Hunter
The Switch
Love Happens
He's Just Not That Into You
30 Rock - Season 3
Friends With Money
Rumor Has It . . .
Office Space


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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