Mother's Day

MOTHER’S DAY. Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis. Directed by Garry Marshall. 118 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).

‘Mother’s Day’ is the latest shameless cash grab designed to prey on audiences’ weakness for celebrating holidays, following in the footsteps of the maligned ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’. The bad news is, this instalment represents a new low. The filmmakers desperately scrape the bottom of the barrel here, mistaking idiotic gags and demographic ticking for an engaging story and real characters, and what might have been a story about maternal love is instead a lazy and cheap exercise that you’ll be hard pressed not to hate.

As appears to be the tradition in such holiday flicks, we follow a handful of tenuously linked plotlines (I’m using the term generously) populated with big name actors and actresses. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee with two pre-teen sons, excited by thoughts her ex (Timothy Olyphant) may be interested in rekindling the flame. It comes as a rude shock then, when he announces he’s impulsively married his young girlfriend.

Elsewhere, Jesse (Kate Hudson) and her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) live completely estranged from their Texan trailer-park dwelling parents. Jesse has an Indian husband and Gabi is a lesbian, and their close-minded folks would never approve of their deviant lifestyle choices. Naturally, said parents decide to drop by unannounced, and are surprised to find their daughters busting (outdated) taboos in their personal lives.

Home Shopping Network celebrity Miranda (Julia Roberts, sporting a regrettable Anna Wintour do) is a successful businesswoman who peddles cheap jewellery to anyone stuck in front of the television at midday – being a businesswoman in this film’s world means naturally that she could never have a family. Try telling that to her daughter Kristin (Britt Robertson), whom she put up for adoption as a baby, and is now suffering from self-professed ‘abandonment issues’ as her comedian boyfriend tries to elicit an affirmative response from her to his constant marriage proposals.

Finally we have Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), a widower raising his two daughters after losing his Army wife in an unspecified military incident. He faces the same challenges which every single dad throughout film history has faced, from having to purchase tampons at the supermarket (how embarrassing!), to constantly being set up with single mums by the women inhabiting the gym he manages.

There are plenty of further examples of mothers sprinkled liberally throughout the film, but this saturation of maternity completely devalues any message the film is trying to pass on to the audience. As each of the strands wraps up, one or more characters is obliged to spout some trite, manipulative drivel about the joys of motherhood, and each speech is glaringly transparent and undercooked. With so little to say, one would hope that the film wouldn’t overstay its welcome, but at almost two hours it is an exercise in patience to remain in one’s seat. The cast look uniformly weary and drained of their charisma, dawdling through their parts toward the cheque at the other end, and the film is just as uninspired aesthetically, with bland visuals to echo its story.

This reviewer is usually not one to engage in the gender debate raging in Hollywood, but the glaring missed opportunity that is ‘Mother’s Day’ demands to be addressed. Directed by veteran Garry Marshall, produced by a team of six males, and with three of the five writing credits attributed to men, one can’t help but ask why more mothers weren’t integral in the film’s production? The supposed insights which the film beats its audiences with are neither new nor insightful, and moments border on offensive. Why must Aniston’s character fixate so pathetically on her ex-husband? Why must the mere glimpse of a mixed-race grandchild cure a militantly racist grandmother of her bigotry? When a group of soccer playing girls walks past in the background, why must their only snippet of audible conversation be ‘[American athlete] Tom Brady is hot’? It beggars belief that these clichéd and superficial notions of womanhood slipped through a modern studio’s approval processes, and should serve as strong ammunition for those seeking to exhibit the gender inequality of the film industry.

The film should be avoided by anyone seeking to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday. It should be a day of celebration, not forced and cheerless schmaltz.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out April 28.

StudioCanal.