Sarah Chalke, Kate Hudson and Margo Martindale. Even the stars look confused. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sarah Chalke, Kate Hudson and Margo Martindale. Even the stars look confused. Picture: SUPPLIED

REALISTICALLY, what can one expect from a film entitled Mother’s Day? In our decadent era, is it an ironic gothic slasher? See Gone Girl for a misogynist portrait of a mad mall mom. Or does it play the Mommy-knows-best ritual and descend into queasy slop, just in time for the commercial holiday last Sunday?

Well — not quite either. Garry Marshall directed 2010’s Valentine’s Day, with its faintly rancid peek at the frailties of what the greeting cards call love. Love is also twisted up in this movie, so don’t take your mom to see it (unless you’re Sigmund Freud). Though bear in mind that it is flagged as a “romantic comedy”, which means the spider-web of emotional entanglements with which it begins is (somehow) going to untangle itself.

The film seems to have been intended to show several marriages or partnerships in 21st century terms, yet not to have succeeded in capturing sequential performances or dialogue that makes much sense for at least an hour. Yes, there are some famous stars present, yet most just look befuddled as various family units (I can’t call them families) appear, disappear, then seemingly merge as the hankies emerge in the final moments.

I must add that a full cast list contains 51 characters. There is no space to list them all.

However, a brief (a minimalist) summary of what I take to be the main plot drivers seems essential:

• Aniston is a divorcée with two sons, still hopelessly in love with her ex (Olyphant), who has abruptly eloped with a younger woman (Mitchell). Across the road lives a widower (Sudeikis) with two daughters, one of whom is entering the quagmire of adolescence and over whom he has no control. Should these lonely people meet and mate?

• Meanwhile we learn that Roberts is a successful writer who gave up a daughter (Robinson) at birth for her career but now bitterly regrets her action. Will they unite?

• The interconnections between these yearning couples forms a species of ever-spreading blancmange that takes in single-sex relationships, love-children, cohabitation sans clerical blessing, and a cross-racial intermezzo that seems inserted to defuse accusations of racism as well as sexism — yet adds an ingredient of soggy acquiescence to all the men about. And that even to a really-old-style pair of America-First intruders who find that everything they believed about their relatives (from Skype and online chat) is false.

This raises one signal issue. How well do we actually know anyone separated by distance if not actually by consanguinity? And why is the gay marriage being concealed anyway? Surely only the Islamic State could be offended by the nest of behaviours on show here?

If the film has been made solely for women, that’s surely an insult to what modern women have learnt about themselves. Though it might seem to promise a canny set of perspectives on this issue, it would have made a lot more sense — and had wider, comic appeal — if it had set out to be a parody of a bodice-ripper. None of that here. The drag down towards promiscuous hugging and kissing acts like gravity.

I am reminded of a friend who told me that as a Jewish teen he once sat around with friends discussing schtupping. A real gran entered, silenced them all with a scowl and said: “If we didn’t know from schtupping, you wouldn’t be here!”We know, we know. Or thought we did.

Mother’s Day
Directed by Garry Marshall
Selected leads (ensemble): Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Britt Robinson, Sarah Chalke, Loni Love, Cameron Esposito, Margo Martindale, Robert Pine, Shay Mitchell

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