Film

Send Flowers Instead: Garry Marshall’s ‘Mother’s Day’ Is the Gift That Gives Nothing

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Is it too much to ask that all these holiday-themed rom-coms — Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and now Mother’s Day — one day merge with the Halloween movies? Michael Myers might be the only one in either franchise with a truly cutting response to all the rhetorical musings about relationships romantic, familial, and platonic. Like the feature-length version of a last-minute gift (which, for many, is exactly what it’ll end up being), Garry Marshall’s latest seems like a nice enough rose until you actually get a whiff of its gas-station chintziness. It’s fine that the makeshift trilogy (please, let it only be a trilogy) is a simple-minded ode to love meant to send everyone home happy. So why doesn’t it actually send anyone home happy?

This time, Marshall presents a cross-section of moms: married (Kate Hudson), divorced (Jennifer Aniston), young (Britt Robertson), old (Margo Martindale) — even dead (Jennifer Garner, for some reason). Not included among the A-list ensemble attempting to enliven the Hallmark Channel–grade script is almost anyone of color; this is an Atlanta-set dramedy in which every major character is white. The screenwriters fashion this intersecting narrative as an anthemic statement about how we treat the people we love, but focusing exclusively on upper-middle-class life undercuts the film’s presumptions of universality.

Loosely connecting the needlessly long list of characters is Julia Roberts as a Home Shopping Network shill on everyone’s TVs. They all admire her glamorous lifestyle, which, according to romantic-comedy logic, means her personal life turns out to be even sadder than theirs.

From one scene to the next, you’re likely to forget not only who a given character is but who he or she is in relation to the other archetypes you won’t much care about. But Marshall is eager to remind you. One of these is a stand-up comic (Jack Whitehall, and don’t get your hopes up, his jokes aren’t funny) whose girlfriend/mother of his child (Robertson) won’t marry him because, as she tearfully tells Hudson while their kids play, “I have abandonment issues.” If that’s not overt enough, try the scene in which Jason Sudeikis (as Garner’s widower) watches a video of his departed wife singing karaoke so that his daughter can walk in the room and helpfully inform us that “Mom loved karaoke.”

Most of the laughs are unintentional. Aniston and Sudeikis make the best of what they’re given, but they’re fighting an uphill battle. By far the highest concentration of actual humor comes during the blooper reel over the end credits; free of the script’s saccharine constraints, the performers immediately demonstrate their chops.

The screenplay’s series of life-affirming contrivances is far longer than the list of funny lines: Everyone spends the first half of the film asking one another how they’re spending the holiday in question, but no one is busy when Sudeikis throws an impromptu party and invites everyone he knows. If mom has good taste, she’ll probably be pissed you didn’t take her to see The Family Fang instead.

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