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Mother's Day Regrettably Low on Substance

<i>Mother's Day</i> Regrettably Low on Substance

While certain subplots contain some heart, Mother's Day is largely shallow, low on relatable characters, lacking any kind of fresh and poignant take that might make (yet another) film about moms worth an hour-and-a-half at the movies. 2 out of 5.


Like his 2010 Valentine’s Day, director Garry Marshall's Mother's Day takes a look at an often complicated holiday through the lens of different families and stories, some intertwining and colliding. Jennifer Aniston stars as Sandy, a single mom trying to keep her life together while battling the emotions that come with her ex-husband's (Timothy Olyphant) sudden remarriage to a woman young enough to be their daughter (Shay Mitchell). Also featured in the sprawling cast are Sandy's friend Jesse (Kate Hudson), Jesse's sister (Sarah Chalke), a local gym owner and widower (Jason Sudeikis), and a home shopping network megastar host (Julia Roberts). Each of these characters (and plenty more) are dealing with their own "mother issues" - whether as moms, children, or dads - leading up to Mother’s Day.

What Works?

Aniston, Hudson, Sudeikis, and Roberts are capable and likeable enough to add warmth and sorrow to their respective storylines. Aniston, given the most screentime, is quite relatable in her struggle to be a good mom and not give in to the temptation to match her ex's immaturity and selfishness. The film moves along at a healthy pace, never spending too much time on any one scenario or character, and the dialogue stays brisk, tackling issues that many of us face, like adoption, new parenthood, family estrangement, divorce, death, and loss.

What Doesn't?

Because each character is given relatively little development, many poignant moments have insufficient build-up. Some dialogue is so straightforward it's actually clunky ("I have abandonment issues" ... "I won't wait forever"). The film in many ways becomes an accidental homage to "rich white people problems." Characters display extravagant and privileged behavior, like throwing elaborate parties or buying out the stock of an entire flower shop. They pop in and out of the gym at a moment's notice, have personal assistants, and are rarely seen at work, their paths obscured by relatively few obstacles.

Tragedy is shown in brief glimpses, but missing from the film are the many who grieve on Mother's Day. Missing are victims of abuse or neglect, those whose mothers refused to attend weddings, who pit children against each other, mothers who lost children or were never able to conceive. Mother's Day barely scratches the surface of why so many people dread the second Sunday in May, and loses a lot of storytelling and cinematic punch in doing so. Unfortunately, a film which could have spoken to the real hurt and scars so many bear on Mother's Day ends up a mishmash of vague life lessons about tolerance and gratitude.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

The film underscores the importance and weight of marriage, even after kids, sex, and living together for years. It shows that grief is a slow process, that tears can be healing, and it's okay to mourn. The importance of all kinds of family bonds is stressed throughout the film, and characters learn to give grace to each other even through failures and misunderstandings.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and some suggestive material 
  • Language/Profanity: A few instances of strong language (including s*** and f***).
  • Sexuality/Nudity: A young woman wears a bikini, short shorts, and shirts that reveal cleavage. A little boy wears a lion costume backwards in a school play, the tail somewhat resembling male anatomy. Several characters engage in nontraditional romantic relationships, such as a lesbian couple and an unmarried couple with a baby.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: A man falls from a balcony and breaks his leg.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: A few characters work at a local bar, and several scenes take place there.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Light-hearted (adult) family outings or big fans of Jennifer Aniston.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those for whom Mother's Day (the holiday) is particularly painful, those sensitive to stereotypical and caricature-like depictions of conservatives and different cultures/ethnicities.

Mother's Day, directed by Garry Marshall, opened in theaters April 29, 2016; available for home viewing August 2, 2016. It runs 118 minutes and stars Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Shay Mitchell, Sarah Chalke, Jason Sudeikis, and Julia Roberts. Watch the trailer for Mother's Day here.

Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.

Publication date: April 29, 2016