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Marshall's Mother's Day' misfires

May 4, 2016
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Director's latest holiday-themed film flat, uninteresting

Young directors seem to be all the rage in Hollywood these days. In some cases, all it takes is one solid feature offering before a studio hands over the keys to a massive billion-dollar franchise. However, even with this desire to find the next big thing, there are still some throwbacks out there for better or worse. Old pros who are still able to make the movies they want to make.

But what if the movies they want to make are kind of terrible? What then?

That's the question we should be asking about Garry Marshall. The 82-year-old director is back with 'Mother's Day,' the third film in a row 'Valentine's Day' and 'New Year's Eve' being first and second named for a holiday. It's like he's completely stopped trying a truth that becomes particularly clear when you actually watch the things.

'Mother's Day' follows the established formula; it's a series of different stories featuring different characters that gradually come together over the course of the film, resulting in a more-or-less coherent narrative.

You've got Sandy (Jennifer Aniston, 'Cake'), whose easygoing and relatively healthy relationship with her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant, TV's 'Justified') is disrupted by Henry's surprise marriage to younger woman Tina (Shay Mitchell, TV's 'Pretty Little Liars'). The new relationship threatens to unravel Sandy's comfort zone.

Then there's Jesse (Kate Hudson, 'Rock the Kasbah'), who lives with her husband Russell (Aasif Mandvi, TV's 'The Brink') across the street from her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke, TV's 'Backstrom') and Gabi's partner Max (Cameron Esposito, 'Operator'). Neither of them have told the truth about their relationships to their overbearing mother (Margo Martindale, 'The Hollars') and old-school father Earl (Robert Pine, 'Minkow').

There's also waitress Kristin (Britt Robertson, 'Tomorrowland'), who simply can't find the courage to say yes whenever her doting bartender/aspiring comedian boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall, TV's 'Fresh Meat') asks her to marry him. He's a good provider and a good father to their daughter, but Kristin still has cold feet.

On the flip side, there's Bradley (Jason Sudeikis, 'Race'), a single father raising two daughters by himself following his Marine wife's being killed in action. Despite the urgings of his daughters and his friends, he simply can't bring himself to move forward especially since his eldest daughter is starting to show some real interest in boys.

Finally, sprinkled throughout, we have home shopping superstar Miranda (Julia Roberts, 'Secret in their Eyes'), who is on a book tour alongside her trusty agent Lance (Hector Elizondo, 'The Book of Life'); she chose her career over having a family, but currently finds herself considering the consequences of that choice.

Each of these stories has a degree of overlap with the others, with the different groups of people exerting a bit of influence on one another as they move through their own narratives. It's a story of love and a take on what motherhood means to different people.

It's also pretty bad.

'Mother's Day' is a woefully misguided effort, one whose good intentions fail to make up for its poor execution and general laziness. It never once feels honest; it is so formulaic and contrived that there's real difficulty in taking it at all seriously. It is derivative and dull. The screenplay which somehow required four people to write it is insipid and uninspiring. The actors look bored; hell, it looks like Marshall was bored.

It's an all-star cast, but the truth is that not one of these actors looks the least bit enthusiastic about being here. It doesn't help that no character seems equipped to make positive choices, but a little effort would have gone a long way. Aniston is unnecessarily shrill, while Hudson's eyebrows never really move. Roberts is clearly here because Marshall's the one who made her a star in 'Pretty Woman,' but she's clearly not thrilled about it. Robertson's motivations are never clear even when she outright declares them. The guys are just guys, with only Sudeikis showing even a moderate flash of interest.

Don't get me wrong as someone who is easily emotionally manipulated, the sappy, saccharine path taken by 'Mother's Day' got me more than once. But there's a difference between evocation and manipulation; with this movie, you're constantly aware of the formula being followed. It's basically film-by-numbers; Marshall simply can't be bothered to do anything beyond the basics, A to B to C.

'Mother's Day' is exactly the kind of trite, bland offering that you can expect from Garry Marshall these days. If this is his idea of a holiday gift, wellit would have been better if he'd just forgotten about it entirely.

[1 out of 5]

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