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Saturday, 7 May 2016

Mother's Day

(M) ★★½

Director: Garry Marshall.

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Héctor Elizondo, Jack Whitehall, Sarah Chalke, Aasif Mandvi.

There's "agreeing to be in a bad movie", and then there's "agreeing to be in a bad movie wearing a bad wig".
FIRST there was Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, and now Happy Days creator and Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall has plucked Mother’s Day off the wall calendar where he gets his movie titles from.

As with his past two films, this one has plenty of star wattage, a cheesy balance of rom and com, and an excess of intertwining stories, some of which work and some of which misfire worse than a poorly chosen Mother’s Day present.

There are four key narratives here. Single mum Sandy (Aniston) is struggling to come to terms with her ex-husband’s new 20-something bride and having to share her kids with a step-mum, sisters Jesse (Hudson) and Gabi (Chalke) have hidden their respective interracial and lesbian relationships from their bigoted white trash parents for too long, Bradley (Sudeikis) is trying to raise his two daughters after the death of his wife, and Kristin (Robertson) refuses to marry the father of her child (Whitehall). Somewhere among all this, Julia Roberts flits around as shopping channel guru Miranda.

As with Marshall’s previous two films, all the issues of all the characters build to a climax on one day – here it’s Mother’s Day, obviously – where everyone learns a lesson about the importance of family and how amazing and versatile mums are.

It’s a noble and worthy theme to hang a movie on, but unfortunately some of these character arcs are more effective than others. Two work well – Aniston’s chapters are well thought-out and examine interesting facets of modern family dynamics, while Sudeikis’ story has plenty of heart and emotional punch to it, even if it is a little underdone.

But as with many of these rom-com anthologies, proceedings get dragged down by the weaker stories. Hudson and Chalke’s section had the potential to be the most interesting as it grappled with prejudices tearing a family apart, however this part of the film ends up devolving into a mess of slapstick and cheesy epiphanies. Where a note of truth rings out in the two aforementioned stories, this one is full of sitcom artifice.

The Robertson/Whitehall tale is also a swing and a miss, partly because it feels tacked on and partly because it’s poorly realised, even though Whitehall's stand-up routines within the film are pretty good.

Marshall and his editors get credit for weaving the threads together well in the final act, and the stars all do a decent job, particularly Aniston and Sudeikis.

But too much of this is patchy and awkward, like it’s four TV pilots stuck together, or four film ideas no one was game to turn into full movies on their own.

There are a couple of laughs here and some nice sentiments, but ultimately Mother’s Day is a 50/50 proposition, like cooking dinner for your mum but making her do the dishes.

PS. Does anyone want to take bets on what day of the year Marshall will use for his next movie? Surely the smart money is on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

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