Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day” is the kind of movie I feared “The Meddler” would be, a formulaic comedy filled with overused stereotypes and cinematic traps filmmakers easily fall victim to. But even though it was directed by Garry Marshall who is well known for overdoing sentimentality in his films, nothing prepared me for how cloying and utterly contrived this movie ended up being. It’s like a network sitcom which never made it pass the pilot stage but somehow got turned into a movie for no discernable reason. Having already laid waste to New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, Marshall shows no hesitation in belittling another holiday, and one with much more meaning than others.

The movie starts, of course, a few days before Mother’s Day which allows us to meet a group of people who at first have little, if any, connection with one another, but we know this is going to change from the get go. There’s single mother Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) who’s raising her two young boys by herself while her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) spends time with his new wife Tina (Shay Mitchell) who looks like she has yet to reach the age of 30. Next we have successful book writer Miranda (Julia Roberts) whom we see selling jewelry on television and is dedicated to her career more than anything else. Then there is Kristin (Britt Robertson) who lives with her boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) and their baby girl. Zack is an aspiring comedian who longs to marry Kristin, but she feels not yet ready to commit for reasons which eventually become clear. And let’s not forget Jesse (Kate Hudson), wife to Indian doctor Russell (Aasif Mandvi) who knows her parents will never approve of him or her sister who has since come out as gay.

Oh yeah, there’s also the grieving widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) whose wife died while serving in the military overseas, and he is left to raise their daughters on his own. The women at the fitness club he works at are eager to set him up with somebody, but he is hesitant to start dating again. And then he runs into Sandy at the local supermarket and… well, you have a pretty good idea of what happens from there.

What bothered me so much about “Mother’s Day” was how cloying and artificial the whole movie felt. Granted, not every movie can feature down to earth characters in relatable situations like “The Meddler” did, but everything here felt so one-dimensional and done by the numbers. Marshall has directed great movies in the past like “The Flamingo Kid,” “Nothing in Common” and “Pretty Women” which turned Julia Roberts into a movie star, and he’s the same guy who gave us the television classics “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley” and “Mork & Mindy.” I even have good things to say about “The Princess Diaries” which introduced Anne Hathaway to the world. But after all these years, you’d think he would be able to give us a movie filled with more than standard situations and cardboard-cutout characters. I refuse to deride his horrible direction as the result of old age because that’s just cruel, but he has done so much better than this tripe.

It’s a real shame because the cast is great and they do their best with material which is far beneath them. Aniston is wonderful as a single mom, and that’s even though her work here doesn’t compare to her underappreciated performances in “The Good Girl” and “Cake.” Sudeikis has proven, in a way he should not have had to, how he can be a strong actor thanks to his performance in “Race,” and he’s wasted here in a role he is far more believable in than many would expect. Hudson, who has attracted mediocre material ever since her star-making turn in “Almost Famous,” does look very relaxed in her performance which gives us hope she will eventually star in a movie worthy of her talents.

But if there’s anyone in “Mother’s Day” who pulls off a truly emotionally honest performance, let alone a powerful moment, it’s Roberts. The scene where she explains to her daughter why she gave her up for adoption proves to be more heart-rending than what the rest of the movie ever could have promised us, and it reminds us why she remains a beloved movie star after all these years. Never mind how the situation is completely contrived as it is presented here. Roberts plays it with a lot of heart and wins us over regardless of how bad this movie truly is.

It’s a shame to see Mandvi, so great on “The Daily Show,” playing nothing more than an Indian stereotype who just happens to be a doctor. Loni Love plays Kimberly, an African-American who is taking pole dancing classes but fumbles them as she is overweight. Kimberly proves to be as funny a character as any Eddie Murphy played in “Norbit,” and no one should mistake this as a compliment. The more Marshall relies on stereotypes, the more this movie sinks into an abyss of awfulness.

But the actors I felt sorriest for were Margo Martindale and Robert Pine who played Jesse’s parents in the movie. They are presented as a couple of very conservative parents who are about to wake up to just how liberal their daughters are. Of course, they are shocked by the love partners their daughters have chosen to spend their lives with, but that they eventually come to accept their decisions in life as well as their grandchildren comes across as no surprise whatsoever. Martindale in particular is a tremendous actress, so her role here feels like an enormous waste of her time as she is forced to portray a type rather than an actual character.

The more I watched “Mother’s Day,” the more nauseous I became. This is such an emotionally manipulative movie that I couldn’t wait for it to be over. This movie has a running time of two hours, and it became increasingly torturous the longer it goes on. While it may have its heart in the right place, it still feels like a gigantic insult to the intelligence. Surely everyone involved with this crap could have come up with something infinitely better, right?

“Mother’s Day” is meant to give tribute to all the mothers out there, but there are so many other movies out there like this which put this one to shame. Regardless of its intentions, it is inescapably awful and deserving of the derision bound to come its way. If you are going to take your mother to a movie this year, take her to see “The Meddler” instead. Taking her to see “Mother’s Day” won’t seem all that different from taking her to see the camp classic “Mommie Dearest” or Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible,” and that’s saying a lot.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

½* out of * * * *

Money Monster

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2016 has been a good year for pulse-pounding thrillers, and “Money Monster” is the latest example. While not as intense as “10 Cloverfield Lane” or as viciously gruesome as “Green Room,” it certainly gets the adrenaline running thanks to taut direction and terrific acting from a star studded cast. While the handling of the material is at times scattershot and you come out feeling like it could have been better, what ended up on screen makes for solid entertainment.

“Money Monster” opens up on the set of a cable show with the same name which is hosted by wall street financial guru Lee Gates (George Clooney), a man whose ego is bigger than his knowledge of stocks. During what seems like a normal day of filming an episode filled with tips for investors as well as dancing and graphics to keep viewers entertained, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) somehow makes it onto the set, fires a gun in the air and takes Lee hostage. It turns out Kyle invested in a company Lee was especially enthusiastic about, but he ended up losing his entire savings in the process. After making Lee put on a vest filled with plastic explosives which could level a skyscraper, Kyle becomes intent on making him apologize not just to him but millions of investors who lost all their money thanks to the “advice” they received on his show.

Watching this movie reminded me of others which dealt with morally duplicitous human beings who, whether they intended to or not, ran into monsters they created out of their own greed and lack of understanding. Costa-Gavras’ “Mad City” quickly come to mind, but “Money Monster” stands above it because the filmmakers don’t deal with the subject manner in such an obvious way. There’s more going on here than what we see on the surface, and this makes what seems like an average movie one of the more intelligent ones I have seen in a while.

Clooney is perfectly cast as a man whose over confidence has long since gotten the best of him, and he shows a lot of vulnerability as his character of Lee Gates is exposed for all his falsehoods. We watch as his regularly scheduled program is interrupted in one of the worst ways possible, and it forces him to think fast on his feet in order to stay alive. Clooney excels in this kind of role as he is not afraid to show the deep cracks in this man’s façade, and this is even after he is revealed to be a three-time divorcee, the kind we see a lot of in movies.

As Kyle, Jack O’Connell brings the same fierce intensity to this role as he did in “Eden Lake,” “Starred Up” and “Harry Brown” among others. It’s almost exhausting to watch him here as his he starts at such a high pitch of energy to where he can’t allow himself to go slack for very long. This is definitely an actor to keep an eye on.

After suffering through the hideous debacle of “Mother’s Day,” Julia Roberts rebounds here as Lee’s long-suffering director, Patty Fenn. Now Patty may not be the star of the show, but she’s the one who makes it a reality on a daily basis. Roberts doesn’t need to do much to show how much of a veteran Patty is at her job as it involves dealing with dozens of people in a high pressure environment, and she truly shows grace under pressure when Kyle turns everyone’s world upside down. Patty quickly becomes the voice that keeps Lee sane as she continues directing the show which threatens to be more unpredictable than it already it is. Roberts is riveting to watch throughout as she does her best to keep her cool while everyone else loses their own much too easily.

In fact, what’s notable about “Money Monster” is how the female characters are much stronger than their male counterparts. This is the case not just with Patty, but also with Diane Lester (the excellent Caitriona Balfe), a high ranking executive who shows little hesitation in digging through her boss’ dealings in order to get to the truth. Just watch as one of her male bosses attempts to fire her; she doesn’t even break a sweat. Or how about Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend Molly (scene stealer Emily Meade) who has a show-stopping scene where she brutally berates Kyle without any hesitation.

Many of the male characters on the other hand are quick to crumble as their egos cannot handle defeat easily. Some might look at this as a bit sexist, or maybe the movie and its screenplay just exposes the reality that women are stronger because they have more to overcome both in society and in the workplace.

“Money Monster” marks Jodie Foster’s fourth film as a director, and she does a very good job of keeping the tension ratcheted up high throughout. Along with screenwriters Alan Di Fiore, Jamie Linden and “Stakeout’s” Jim Kouf, she takes what looks like a predictable story and messes around with the elements to where second guessing what’s about to happen becomes pointless. At the same time, she does have some trouble balancing out both the dramatic and comedic aspects here, and the more comedic the movie becomes, the more it loses its dramatic power. It’s a strong movie for sure, but you do come out of it thinking it could have been even better.

Still, “Money Monster” is an entertaining thriller that benefits from strong direction and terrific performances from its talented cast. It’s no “Network,” but it does have a lot to say about how money rules our lives and has us making rash decisions for the purpose of staying one step ahead of losing everything. While its ending is a bit too pat, it’s not just another mindless thriller. And in the end, it’s always nice to see wall street take a beating in any movie.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

* * * ½ out of * * * *