Mother’s Day was first popularized in 1908 by Anna Jarvis, whose own mother had dedicated her life to pacifism in the Civil War era. Jarvis would spend the rest of her life fighting, sometimes literally, the organizations that saw in the holiday a perfect marketing hook on which to hang sales of flowers, greeting cards and expensive jewelry. She died broke in a sanitarium in 1948, seven decades before Garry Marshall could stage a feature-length celebration of the holiday revolving around Julia Roberts hawking color-changing mood necklaces on TV.
Marshall’s Mother’s Day is the third in his series of holiday hooplas, with him having already sacrificed Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Like those other films, this new one stuffs a handful of ham-handed stories into two hours (though the volume of stories is, blessedly, not quite as super-sized). Here a parade of suburban Atlanta moms and dads — all of them white and thin, and most of them wealthy — wrestle with false crises in the week leading up to Jarvis’ fabled day. The film cuts between them with little regard for dramatic buildup, and when Marshall grows weary of the humans, he just jumps back to his longtime muse Roberts, in a harshly cut red bob, as she sells jewelry like the world’s most unintentionally accurate Greek chorus.
If you are an issue of Entertainment Weekly from 1999, you will be ecstatic to learn that Roberts also shares a single scene with none other than Jennifer Aniston, here playing a frazzled divorcée whose ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) has just re-enacted Saturday Night Live‘s “Meet Your Second Wife” sketch. Aniston sets about enacting petty revenge, fretting that her two sons will swiftly forget about her like goldfish come Mother’s Day. Her lone character trait is that she rambles all her thoughts out loud. We rarely see her interacting with her sons, who seem like spoiled little sh*ts — the only thing that lures them back to her house is her throwing a lavish, expensive party.
The other mom-com storylines fare only mildly better at centering their conflicts around parental relationships, which is like saying a Fast and Furious film includes a single car chase. A bartender and aspiring comic (played with disarming charm by Jack Whitehall) feels flummoxed by his long-time girlfriend’s (Britt Robertson) refusal to marry him, despite the fact that they’re raising a child together. A bearded widower father (Jason Sudeikis) is still mourning the death of his military wife (Jennifer Garner), and we know he’s still mourning because we must watch a karaoke home video where she purrs “This is for you” into the camera as the soundtrack swells with crocodile tears.
And then two sisters (Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke) struggle with how to reveal to their ultra-conservative, openly xenophobic mother (Margot Martindale) that they have started families, respectively, with an Indian man (Aasif Mandvi) and a woman (Cameron Esposito). Look at those five names again: These are incredibly gifted performers. Having them all together should have been a burst of fresh lemonade in the middle of this sour mess, and yet the film finds a way to steer them into disaster like Martindale’s RV (yes, she is literal trailer-trash).