Like its predecessors, Mother’s Day boasts an all-star ensemble of characters who ping-pong around a general theme in celebration of the titular holiday. There’s Jennifer Aniston as Sandy, a divorced mom whose chiseled ex (Timothy Olyphant) has moved on to someone younger. Kate Hudson plays Jesse, who’s committed the unforgivable sin of marrying a non-white man (Aasif Mandvi), which has estranged her from her conservative Texan parents. Jason Sudeikis is Bradley, a soldier mourning the loss of his wife whose cute daughters need him to snap out of his sad reverie. These heroes, and many more, are constantly tuned into the Home Shopping Network to watch the lifestyle-guru stylings of Miranda (Julia Roberts), a sweater-caped extra-terrestrial who hawks junky bracelets and mood pendants with all the charisma of a coma patient. Will she be important to the central plot later? Of course she will.
Mother’s Day is set in Atlanta, an astonishing choice considering the blinding whiteness of the ensemble picked to represent this majority-black city (the only African American character is played by the comedian Loni Love). Still, Marshall and the film’s four credited screenwriters take it upon themselves to have characters deliver bland lectures on racism and homophobia to the film’s one-dimensional “villains,” Jesse’s red-state parents. Their other daughter, Jesse’s sister, Gabi (Sarah Chalke), outdid her sibling’s marital transgression by marrying a woman (played by the comedian Cameron Esposito). Mother’s Day is looking for easy applause by castigating Jesse and Gabi’s parents (played by Margo Martindale and Robert Pine), who roll around in an RV and wear various themed t-shirts that could have been purchased at a Donald Trump rally. But they’re far too cartoonish to stand in for any real-life debate, and by the end everyone discovers the virtues of tolerance anyway.
Aniston’s character, Sandy, seems to embody the unfortunate, gossip-rag view of her real life: She’s a harried 40-something replaced by a younger model (the buxom Tina, played by Shay Mitchell). Sandy struggles to juggle the various commitments of her two sons, kvetches about her ex-husband at yoga class, and gets an instant case of word-diarrhea the minute she’s speaking to an eligible single man (in this case, Sudeikis). At one point, her kids fuss over leaving her to hang out with her father, saying, “But you’re so sad!” as if they’re suddenly the editorial board of The National Enquirer. Films like Mother’s Day seem to deploy this frumpy-mom stereotype for automatic audience relatability, but it’s yet another horrendously hackneyed trope in a film already filled with them.
The rest of the ensemble feel as though they’re sleepwalking, including younger stars like Britt Robertson, who plays a new mother searching for the woman who gave her up for adoption. (Guess who?) Sudeikis, too, seems to equate “grief” with “looking tired all the time,” or perhaps it was too difficult to tap into his character’s sadness about his wife (who’s revealed as a celebrity cameo) given such a poor script. Unlike with the rom-com Valentine’s Day, there’s no clear genre angle to shoot for here to make the film feel like a cohesive whole. Each vignette stumbles toward a conclusion of sorts, with the film’s only consistency being an immense smugness: Here is a movie that has bravely dared to declare that mothers (and wives and daughters) deserve our love and attention and respect. For viewers who need tacky films to teach them basic lessons like that in totally artless fashion, well, there’s always the possibility of a Father’s Day sequel.