Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Mother's Day (2016) - Movie Review

I haven’t seen much of Garry Marshall’s work, and remember that I’m mostly familiar with more recent cinema so I have a lot of older films to get to including a few of his, but what I have seen in no way sets my hopes high for consumable product this time around. His brand of heavy pandering under the guise of empowerment with The Princess Diaries (BOTH of them) and the plain-old twisted sense of festivity of the last two holiday-centric releases makes him the kind of filmmaker who is quite poisonous to people like me. This should come as no surprise for those of you who have read my earlier gripes on chick flicks, but yeah; I really friggin’ hate these kinds of movies almost on principle by this point. Not that that is reason enough for me to hate anything though, just that it makes what I am sure is going to be pure bile come up a lot more smoothly. So, let’s get this gastric excavation of a film over and done with already. This is Mother’s Day.

The plot: In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, a group of character meet for incredibly contrived and stupid reasons. Yeah, not even bothering to try condensing the synopsis for this one; there’s way too much going on.

This ensemble cast must have been put together with name-brand recognition at the forefront because they certainly aren’t passionate about this material. Sure, it’d be mighty difficult to find someone who would find this tripe compelling, but at the very least they could’ve made some effort. Julia Roberts barely gets any screen time, and most of it is just flogging fictional product, but she performs just at the base line. Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Margo Martindale… screw it, pretty much everyone here is on auto-pilot. After being genuinely impressed by several of the actors here in other films, including Ella Anderson’s surprisingly solid performance in The Boss, it just plain hurts to see them go through the motions this poorly. Worst of all is Jennifer Aniston, whom I’ll admit has never really wowed me as an actress but she gives what is seriously in the running for the worst performance of the year. She’s so stilted and awkward in every one of her scenes that I wouldn’t be surprised if this was some Ex Machina situation where they were trying to test a robot for traces of emotion, only with the Rachel 9000 over here. Needless to say, I doubt there’s much chance that she will start ranting about the Jews on Twitter any day soon.

Following his previous holiday-themed works of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, Marshall steadfastly refuses to learn from past mistakes. You’d think that with the less cluttered focal cast (well, relatively so at any rate), he’d have a better time with the pacing of the numerous stories as has been a recurring issue with his most recent fare. Unfortunately, despite less people needing to be juggled around for screen time, the pacing is still a colossal mess. No characters sink in because they aren’t given enough time in their respective segments for any real development, some scenes literally showing up for about 1-2 minutes and doing little more than reminding the audience that those characters still existed. Sandy’s feeling of inadequacy as a mother, Jesse and Gabi dealing with their redneck parents (oh, we’ll get to them in a bit), Bradley struggling to cope with the death of his wife, Kristin’s relationships with Miranda and Zack; none of it is either developed in any real way that doesn’t make this feel like the first episode of a very long soap opera, or even resolved in a way that makes any rational sense.

All of this is bolstered by how this is another supposed “chick flick” that sticks to the main tactic of that sub-genre: Woman can’t handle the feels, so don’t give it to them. The problems being dealt with are relatively major all things considered and could (and indeed have many, many times before) make for compelling drama. However, none of them are given anything resembling weight. Everything is just resolved with the idea that mothers know best, which makes the constant “towel-head” remarks from Flo even more offensive when they’re just brushed aside like this. When it isn’t being wholesale racist and making the fact that she is racist the joke, for reasons that I so do not want to look into, it’s sticking to incredibly dated and lame situations. Say, do you find men shopping for tampons inherently funny? What about older people trying to be hip with a scene that makes me want to incinerate my film ticket and send the ashes to Shock G in penance for its sins? Or how about a man pressuring a woman into marriage, in an attempt to subvert gender expectations that has been overdone to the point of becoming a gender expectation? What about a finale involving a car chase? That last one has car acting much in line with Aniston’s entire performance, in that it is incredibly clunky and unnatural. Now, I’m not saying that we should just do away with all the old tropes and subject matter; all I’m asking for is some effort when it comes to delivering on them.

I am 100% convinced that this film did not begin with a script. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that there probably wasn’t even a script to this thing at all because there is no way that these lines were written down anywhere other than in the actors’ heads. It’s the kind of dialogue and blocking that makes me appreciate pretty much every other film I’ve ever seen in retrospect because it’s so badly done here. It’s awkward and rambling in a usually realistic fashion, but it doesn’t work for the same reason that people usually hire actors and not regular people to perform in films: It may be real, but it doesn’t look good on screen. Hell, the most natural any of this becomes is during Zack’s scenes where he does stand-up comedy, and that’s because it’s actively staged like a directed performance and Whitehall comes across as relaxed and charming in those scenes.

Everywhere else, he and the many other actors working off their most recent mortgages feel like the rehearsal takes before the genuine attempt. Once again, no effort has been made here. It’s actually that poorly handled that I’m looking back on the attempt to force pregnancy subplot from New Year’s Eve with strange fondness because, as wrong-headed as it was, it showed a lot more creativity than anything found here. Hell, I’d take the 1980 film Mother’s Day over this. Sure, it was a pretty woeful film about redneck serial killers who debate whether punk or disco is better, but again: Creativity. Unless you count having pretty much every character be an awful human being, either out of direct action or apathy towards said direct action, as being creative, you’re shit out of luck.

All in all, this is a film that immediately made me think positively about every other film I’ve watched, both good and bad, because of how little even happens in this trudge of a sit. The acting across the board is phoned-in the likes of which rarely seen on the big screen, the writing combines treacly sentimentality with a dash of unchecked racism and the overall production has that Hollywood sheen but none of the actual effort beyond that; it’s like a glossed-up straight-to-DVD movie. Actually, it’d be more like straight-to-VHS because only hipsters could find something to like about this wreck. I thought we’d have a little longer before we encountered this year’s Love The Coopers, but here we are.

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