Mother’s Day

A smorgasbord of star-studded schmaltzy smug-ish sentiment.

Having not seen ‘Valentine’s Day’ (2010) nor ‘New Year’s Eve’ (2011) I knew of the infamy of director Garry Marshall‘s ensemble romantic comedies but I don’t think I was truly prepared for ‘Mother’s Day’. It took me about 1/4 of the film, roughly 30 mins, to realise that the only way I could endure (the only verb choice that really captures how I felt) the remaining 3/4 would be by turning off my settings for common-sense, logic and cynicism. As a result I found only the first section truly excruciating, the remainder only vaguely unpleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so contrived or ridiculous. ‘Mother’s Day’ is essentially a feature film that is the personification of a money-free Hallmark card. Paper thin and totally empty.

Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widow with two daughters; his wife was a marine who dies in combat. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee with two sons. Her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has just married a twenty-something called Tina (Shay Mitchell). Sandy’s best friend is Jesse (Kate Hudson). Jesse is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi), an Indian doctor; they have a young son together. They live next door to Jesse’s sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) who is married to her lesbian partner Max (Cameron Esposito); Max has a son whom Gabi adopted. Jesse made a new friend at her mother & baby group, a young mum called  Kristin (Britt Robertson). Kristin is in a long-term relationship with Zach (Jack Whitehall) who is an amaterue comedian. Kristin won’t marry Zach until she meets the mother who gave her up for adoption, a legendary business-woman and workaholic called Miranda (Julia Roberts). 

That is genuinely the most contrived plot summary I have ever written in my 14 months of writing this blog. I intentionally included facts about race/sexuality/personality which often feel needless when I write about other films. The reasoning is simple – Mother’s Day makes such a big deal about being ‘inclusive’ and having a range of representation. But it doesn’t. Not really. Yes there is a lesbian couple, but we don’t actually get to know them. They merely serve as plot points for Jesse’s storyline about telling her seemingly racist mother that she married someone of another race. The majority of the film’s ‘jokes’ come from these exchanges, where her mother calls her new-found son-in-law a ‘towelhead’ amongst many others. It’s a huge misstep as the way it is treated and mined for laughs is in itself racist. The movie tries to be self-aware about racist and homophobic attitudes yet uses them in such a casually offensive manner.

Another recurring excruciating element of the film are Jack Whitehall’s stand-up sequences. They are painfully contrived, like most of ‘Mother’s Day’ in all fairness, but considering being a stand-up is Whitehall’s job it feels like an advanced skill that the film manages to get them so so wrong.

Then there’s Julia Roberts, rumoured to have been paid $4 million for three days worth of filming. The film uses an approach to show just how ‘big’ Miranda is by having her appear everywhere within the film, frequently using adverts and infomercials to showcase her omnipresence.  It’s a touch I quite like (sound the alarm!) if only the ads themselves had been infuriating. There are glimmers of Roberts’s talent here, certain looks she gives, that remind of just how talented she is. Unfortunately that is lost by her having to play a previously stereotyped ‘business-woman’. She has no personal life, only business. Therefore she is cold and treats practically everyone as if they are worthless. So glad to see we’ve progressed beyond that cliche!

It does hurt to say this, but I did quite like the performances and storylines involving both Aniston and Sudeikis. Whilst there was still a whole lot of ridiculousness, particularly with his female harem of friends which included seemingly the only black person in the whole of Atlanta (a larger lady who is loud and proud. Sigh.), it was during these storylines that showed the film had a tiny murmur of well-meaning intent.

Otherwise ‘Mother’s Day’ is devoid of charm and rather sickly. It’s an opportunity to see actors you have liked in other movies interact with each other in contrived scenes and only communicate with pseudo psycho-babble. It’s smug and begrudgingly acted. Avoid.

1 star

Money Monster

A solid and enjoyable suspense-thriller

There is a tiny, nasty part of me that wants to use the Valley Girl-esque phrase of ‘Hello, Money Monster? 2002 called and it wants its movie back!” as there is something rather dated about this film. However, after seeing Neon Demon at a preview screening last night (click here for my review) there was actually something rather comforting about seeing a good old-fashioned topical thriller that clocks in at the good ol’ standard 90 minutes. And it’s actually pretty good.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of cable network show ‘Money Monster’ , providing gives the nation stock market tips and tricks. To him the programme is the chance to talk about his favourite thing, money, and have fun – this includes props, sound effects, visual aids and dancers. He seems blissfully unaware of just how important his guidance is to some people, that he is dealing with the livelihoods of millions of people – at least he was unaware until Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) entered the studio during a live broadcast, brandishing a gun and forcing Lee to wear a vest laden with explosives. It’s up to the show’s executive producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to help Lee get out alive, and that means locating business CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) . His company lost $880 million due to a ‘Glitch’, $60,000 of which was Kyle’s. But is there more truth to this ‘Glitch’ than Walt is letting on? 

Money Monster is a bit of a superlative-free zone. It’s not the world’s greatest film relating to the economy, nor is it the worst. Director Jodie Foster does a great job in articulating what is universal anger borne out of confusion over the nature of banking and financial crashes. Whilst the film is not developed enough to serve as a deep socio-economic or political statement is does allow for reflection on how little we know about what men in suits are doing with our money. Unlike the equally enjoyable The Big Short  (click here for my review) it doesn’t focus on an entire recession, but on how the crash of just one company can have devastating consequences.

O’Connell is superb channeling power and rage into his performance, one which has thematic similarities to Daniel Kaluuya in an episode of Black Mirror entitled ‘Fifteen Million Merits‘.  Clooney offers a solid performance as an arrogant arsehole with a heart of gold (pretty much his standard M.O). Roberts is fine as a desperate producer keeping her head when all around her are losing there’s. West is the required level of swarmy to create a villainous figure. Caitriona Balfe (playing Diane Lester) is an actress I had not come across before but was a pleasant surprise with a crucial yet understated performance.

Money Monster provides just what the trailer offers. No need to read the small print here: it’s solid entertainment that will engage for the entirety of its running time and may even make you think.

stars