Nobody ever said being a mother was easy. So it stands to reason that the day meant to honour the devoted, hardworking moms in our lives might be fraught with complexity and conflict, too — on movie screens at the very least.
Mother’s Day is the latest “day” movie from director Garry Marshall, following Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. And it is indeed all about moms, telling the short stories of a wide spectrum of matriarchs struggling with all the problems that make every day difficult… let alone Mother’s Day.
Sandy’s a recently divorced mother of two tweens whose father recently eloped with a woman many years younger… and hotter. Sandy’s desperate to get a job with famed Home Shopping Network maven Miranda Collins, who, of course, has some deeply buried motherhood issues of her own.
Kristen’s technically a single mom living with her boyfriend. She keeps turning down his earnest, repeated pleas to tie the knot because of abandonment issues stemming from her adoption.
Sisters Jesse and Gabi share the same problem: their loudmouth, judgmental mom, Flo. The older woman was aghast that Jesse dated an Indian man and thinks Gabi’s engaged to a high-powered mover-and-shaker businessman. So Jesse got married and had a baby without telling dear ol’ Mom. And Gabi did something similar… only with a woman (named Max) who already has a son (Charlie). When Flo and her husband, Earl, show up unexpectedly for Mother’s Day, the sisters suddenly have some serious explaining to do.
Meanwhile, there’s Bradley, who’s obviously not a mother. His beloved wife, a Marine, was killed in combat exactly a year before. Bradley’s soldiering on by himself, trying to cope with his own grief as well as that of his tween and teen daughters, Vicky and Rachell.
If only there were a pretty, divorced mother with kids of her own who he could connect with and start over…
Mother’s Day pays heartfelt (though often over-the-top and melocomedic) honour to mothers. That’s clear. Being a mom is rarely easy, the movie reminds us, but it’s noble, significant work. Moms love us with “every atom”. They attend to myriad details, from lunches to practices to dental appointments to inhalers… to sorting through the disappointing decisions we make. And, in most cases, the story insists, moms handle those never-ending responsibilities with fortitude — if not always grace in the moment.
Specifically, Sandy has to work through her anger and insecurity to make her new split-family situation work. She has to realise that no matter how much her ex-husband’s new wife wants to be the kids’ new mom, too, the other woman can never replace the role Sandy plays in her children’s life. (Divorce isn’t judged here, per se, but neither is it depicted as something that’s positive or good as we see the hurt, heartbreak and complications it creates for everyone involved.)
Kristin does her best to deal with the abandonment she experienced as a child, and we see some positive resolution to that take place as she reunites with her mom. Her mother talks about the scars she herself suffered from being forced to give Kristin up when she had her at the age of 16.
Jesse and Gabi have both chosen distance and deceit to cope with their meddling, judgmental mother, Flo. But we see all three reach toward coming to terms with the rift in their relationship.
Bradley, meanwhile, is one of the most decent, down-to-earth dads seen on a movie screen in a long time. As mentioned, he’s agonisingly trying to sort through his own grief while simultaneously trying to figure out how to help his daughters do the same thing.
Gabi and Max are said to be married, and Gabi has adopted Max’s tween son, Charlie (whom we hear was the result of Max using a sperm donor.) The lesbian couple is shown exchanging affectionate touches. They run an establishment called the Rainbow Bakery, and they’re working on a float depicting a giant womb for a Mother’s Day parade. The float prompts several vagina references, and one woman suggestively says she wants to see a similar anatomy-themed float for Father’s Day. (It’s worth noting that Max is portrayed by comedian Cameron Esposito, the host and creator of Buzzfeed’s “Ask a Lesbian” series.)
Virtually all the film’s female characters wear revealing, tight-fitting and skimpy clothing throughout. Plunging necklines reveal lots of cleavage. We see women in sports bras and skintight yoga pants. One woman removes her shirt after a spill. Tina wears a tiny bikini. Sandy is particularly aghast at the incredibly revealing clothing Tina routinely wears (never mind that Sandy’s own attire often doesn’t cover up much more). Sandy tells Jesse she thinks her ex-husband was “checking her out” while she was wearing a clingy, towel-like robe after getting out of the shower. Several women perform pole-dancing workouts at a gym.
Sandy’s boys, Peter and Mikey, say they love it when their dad takes care of them because he does things like let them go to school without underwear (“freeballing”, one of them enthusiastically dubs it). Another child accidentally puts a lion costume on backwards for the school play … with the tail suggestively sticking up in front. (He’s totally unaware of the visual implications, but the adults are clearly not.)
We hear sarcastic quips about strippers. Jokes and/or discussions revolve around “big boobs”, inside-out bras, panties, tampons, and dressing up like Liberace. Rachell gushes that pole dancing helps a woman “get in touch with her body”. A gay man talks with Miranda about his partner. The book title “Moby Dick” is reappropriated twice as a suggestive put-down.
Other Negative Elements
Rachell swears at her dad once and refuses to obey him when she gets in a car with her boyfriend. A female friend of Bradley’s basically shrugs and tells him he can’t risk any conflict with his daughter that might alienate her from him. In other words, he just has to accept her bad attitude and let her do what she wants.
Flo repeatedly makes racist statements about Jesse’s Indian husband, including calling him a “towelhead”. Jokes are made at the expense of a little person named… Shorty, as well as a morbidly obese man named… Tiny.
We’re “treated” to quite a lot of lying. Someone steals candy from a vending machine. Bradley, who coaches his daughter’s soccer team, throws a temper tantrum at a ref’s call, kicking the ball away. A toddler urinates on a park bench.
“No matter what’s happened between us, you’re always my mother,” Jesse tells her mom. And that, really, offers a succinct summary of Mother’s Day. Ultimately, there’s simply no one quite like a mom, no one who can ever take her place — even if she’s not… perfect.
This is, then, a movie that has some admirable things to say about moms and rightly recognises the hugely important role they play in shaping their children’s lives. That said, Mother’s Day embraces every permutation of how motherhood can occur — including out-of-wedlock cohabitation and a lesbian woman using a sperm donor before marrying another woman — with equal levels of enthusiasm. All paths to motherhood are equally valid, it preaches, and then not-so-subtly implies that rendering any kind of judgment on any of those paths is a backward, bigoted thing to do.
That, along with some sexual subjects and swearing, make it much harder to hug this movie than it is to hold tightly to our real-life moms in the way Garry Marshall wants us to.
By Focus on the Family Singapore. This review was adapted from Plugged In: the entertainment guide your family needs to make family appropriate decisions through movie reviews, book reviews, TV reviews, and more.