Garry Marshall so aggressively creates crowd-pleasing centers in his films, jammed with such idealized folks and Americana hooey, that one can only surrender. Either that or don a curmudgeon cloak of Dark Critical Disapproval to scold anyone who dares enjoy such festivities.
It’s a hopeless task to point out the incessant clichés, formulaic story structure and sappy nonsense that cheerfully take up residence in the Garry Marshall Experience.
One trick to this later period of his film comedies is to gather stories around popular holidays. He’s already done “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve” so take a look at the calendar and you can easily guess this Friday he’s going to treat you to “Mother’s Day.”
What critic wants to tell you “Mother’s Day” is a drag?
Only here’s the thing: I can’t tell you it’s any good either. Look, if you’ve got nothing better to do this weekend or find yourself in the near future flying long distance and the movie comes up in the in-flight menu, go for it. It passes the time.
You get Julia Roberts (in a hideously bad red wig) and Hector Elizondo from his film “Pretty Woman,” plus Kate Hudson, who he insists sat on his lap when he directed her mom, Goldie Hawn, in “Overboard” when Hudson was 7, and, let’s see, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis and Britt Robertson (the latter from the unfortunate “Tomorrowland”).
What can you say about a movie that has a party clown deliver a heart-felt soliloquy about motherhood and the bonds that matter, and the story’s children are more sagacious than their screwed-up parents or grandparents?
The story takes place in Atlanta, no doubt for tax advantages to this pure-Hollywood production, and features mixed-up characters meant to exemplify the new American Mother’s Day where gay moms and divorced moms and bigoted moms and moms who abandoned their young are all welcome at the table.
Eventually, that is. You gotta have conflict, after all, so ham-fisted contrivances dictate that each mother must earn her place at that table.
You can’t tell If Garry Marshall actually believes he’s being inclusive and — that word Hollywood is struggling so hard with in the aftermath of the disastrous #OscarSoWhite season — “diverse,” but this is really more a case of mainstream movies catching up to sitcoms and cable TV. These subjects were exhausted long ago and everyone there is on to transgender issues and such.
This is one of the few new releases one can call vintage or old fashioned or, to be churlish, out of touch even as it hits theaters. Its approach to mixed or gay marriages is so quaint it makes you cringe. Only Republican presidential candidates think these are hot-button issues today.
To play fair, a host of writers (see below for the exhaustive list) juggle four major plots and numerous subplots in a dextrous fashion. But the sheer weight of so many celebrity actors and subplots wear the poor script down so the pace slows to a sluggish crawl where false endings come as relief only for you to realize that — oh no, you still have to wind up a few more plot lines. The film lasts a punishing 118 minutes.
You do see every single one of these closures coming a mile off too, including the pregnant bar waitress who will go into labor on Mother’s Day, and she is a character of absolutely no importance to the movie whatsoever. She’s there for that one moment.
To say nothing of Anniston and Sudeikis’ characters who are destined to wind up together but must wait almost until the credits are about to roll to get together (encouraged mostly by those wise children).
No, you can’t knock a Garry Marshall movie that believes all of life’s troubles and turmoils can be solved in a couple of hours if only people take a few pratfalls or get a hand caught in the hospital candy dispenser or spend a little quality time with that mixed-race child they initially abhor.
Don’t you want to live in a world where things really are that simple?
Opens: April 29, 2016 (Open Road Films)
Production companies: A Wayne Rice/Gulfstream Pictures Production in association with Aperture Media Partners/MayDay Movies/Triad Film Works/Beatnik Films
Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Jack Whitehall, Margo Martindale, Shay Mitchell, Aasif Mandvi
Screenwriters: Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker & Tom Hines
Story by: Lily Hollander, Matt Walker & Tom Hines & Garry Marshall
Producers: Mike Karz, Wayne Rice, Daniel Diamond, Brandt Andersen, Howard Burd, Mark DiSalle
Executive producers: Kevin Frakes, Ankur Rungta, Matthew Hooper, Jared D. Underwood, Danny Mandel, Rodger May, Fred Grimm, Bill Heavener, Scott Lipsky, Leon Corcos, Deborah E. Chausse, William Bindley
Director of photography: Charles Minsky
Production designer: Missy Stewart
Music: John Debney
Costume designers: Marilyn Vance, Beverley Woods
Editors: Bruce Green, Robert Malina
PG-13 rating, 118 minutes