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Review: “Mother’s Day” (PG-13)

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Ron Batzdorff/Open Road Films(LOS ANGELES) — When the outtakes that follow your movie are the best part of the movie, that’s generally not a good sign. Sadly, that’s the case with Mother’s Day, the latest of these bloated-cast holiday movies from director Garry Marshall.

Like New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day before it, the formula here is pretty simple: mix one heaping tablespoon of big-name stars with an upcoming holiday, and bake until golden brown. In this case they included the stars, but forgot to add the substance — creating a dessert that looks delicious from a distance but is ultimately hollow and disappointing.

Mother’s Day stars Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Sarah Chalke, Margo Martindale and more as mothers with various stories to tell.  Their lives all intertwine and intersect at various points throughout the film, and that’s perhaps part of problem number one: instead of deftly concentrating on one or two or even three stories, Mother’s Day focuses poorly on six. It’s way too scattered.

Problem two: a lot of the movie feels like when your aunt Sarah thinks she’s cutting-edge because she finally got on Facebook. In Mother’s Day, there’s a storyline about old-fashioned parents not approving of an interracial couple, and a gay daughter.  It feels so dated, it hurts. Of course, things like this still are issues between family members, but with superior content like Transparent out there, if you’re going to bring the family drama you should at least attempt to make it fresh.

Which brings us to problem number three: director Garry Marshall. I love Garry Marshall. He’s a national treasure. From Mork & Mindy to Pretty Woman, he’s responsible for some of the happiest hours I’ve ever spent staring at a screen. But I think his best days as a director may be behind him. Mother’s Day is clunky, awkward and uneven. Shots linger for too long when they should cut much quicker. The pacing seems off. Emotional moments are devoid of any heart, and joke after joke after joke falls flat. Some of this has to do with the script, some with the editing, and some with the mostly one-note acting. But as the guy in charge, it all falls on Marshall’s shoulders, and it feels like maybe there’s so much respect for him, people might have a hard time telling him what’s working, and what’s not.

And problem number four is that this family dramedy should leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but it mostly just makes you really uncomfortable, over and over again. There’s a bunch of humor that might have been passable 20 years ago, but comes off racist when presented to a modern audience. For example, a scene played for comedy where cops order a dark-skinned man out of a car and to the ground at gunpoint comes off as particularly tone deaf today. Same goes for an Indian mom with a completely over-the-top stereotypical Indian accent, played by an actress who is clearly not Indian. A bit where Jason Sudeikis does karaoke to “The Humpty Dance” is meant to be sincere and endearing, but ends up one of the most cringe-worthy things put on screen in the last ten years.  And how anyone ever said yes to the hideous and distracting wig worn by Julia Roberts is beyond me.

Being a mom is messy, and in that mess there’s often humor, or things so tragic that you can’t help but laugh. I believe Mother’s Day is trying to celebrate those messy and awkward moments, and in so doing, celebrate moms. If that’s the case, then its heart is in the right place.

But moms deserve better. SO much better. And so do audiences.  Mother’s Day is just under two hours long, but I swear it felt like four.

One-and-a-half out of five stars.