I happen to be a daughter with a mother, and I tear up just thinking about how difficult/wonderful it is to have a mom. So you might think Mothers and Daughters, from first-time feature director Paul Duddridge with a script by Paige Cameron, would be my movie.
You would be wrong.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the other Mother’s Day release, Mother’s Day, or even the other Mother’s Day release with Susan Sarandon, The Meddler, though they all share the same goal of trying to tap into that (apparently) sweet, sweet mother-and-daughter power audience.
Sarandon's always a performer to get excited about, but don't expect much in this case: 75% of the film features people talking to each other on phones or FaceTime, and she’s only there for around five minutes total. Maybe you’ve already experienced the thrilling pleasure of watching your mother talk on the phone to your sister or seeing your roommate maintain a long-distance relationship over Google Hangouts. Mothers and Daughters perfectly captures those tedious moments, making every comic line flat and every twist mundane.
Aside from Sarandon, the film boasts an impossible all-star cast: Courteney Cox, Sharon Stone, Christina Ricci, Mira Sorvino and Selma Blair, for god’s sake. Yet we don’t get to see any of these people talk to one another, with the exception of a one-minute FaceTime between Sorvino and Stone and a one-minute argument between Ricci and Cox. I would empty my tiny lady pockets of cash for a chance to see Stone and Sarandon play off each other. Here, though, nobody is ever in the same room with anyone else — does that even count as passing the Bechdel Test? These are some of America’s best actresses! The people who’ve built iconic, consciousness-enduring characters who made us feel something and connect — Louise! Wednesday! Monica! Whatever the name of the psycho killer in Basic Instinct was! — and yet we have relegated them to sitting on a set by themselves, delivering one-sided monologues to a fake FaceTime for 90 minutes.
It’s depressing to even think about each actress’ shoot date and how lonely it must have been in that fake apartment or bedroom, the craft-services table a solitary setting for one, while a PA mumbled her invisible “scene” partner’s lines. Imagine staring at a laptop screen and answering a question that was never posed by someone who doesn’t exist. You have no idea how they asked it, what nonverbal tics might distinguish it, no idea how to react. And almost all of your dialogue is there just to advance the plot, because the script finds a way to have multiple letters and emails read aloud. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but apparently the director needs to hear it: Actors need other actors, and showing rather than telling is a mistake you get out of your system with a low-budget indie nobody sees, not the ones you make with an all-star cast in a wide-release holiday monster.
And if the idea of these women stuck in their fortresses of solitude doesn't turn you off, there’s also the storyline, which is as difficult to follow as your mother’s quirky, handwritten, note-ridden recipes for goulash. Rebecca (Ricci), for instance, who’s found out that her sister (Courteney Cox) is really her mother after her grandmother dies (we don’t see any of this), next finds out over the phone that her brother-in-law (Paul Adelstein) is actually her father. And then they have to read a will (out loud) and inherit two million dollars, and that’s just five minutes of this unbelievable script. These stunningly unrealistic interactions between mothers and daughters drag out every cliché of pure maternal love, including Blair’s portrayal of a career-driven single woman, Rigby Gray, who seeks out an abortion only to realize, after saving a drunk woman from being raped, that she really does have maternal instincts after all.
The film purports to tie together its storylines with an exhibit of Rigby Gray’s photography, but their only real connection is that every character exists in an echelon of great wealth, where the only common people they encounter are a drunk woman (Liana Mendoza) who almost gets raped and another woman (Stephanie Shamie) with a pathetic cough who’s dying of cancer and looking for some sympathy — over the phone, of course — from her rich buddy Layla (Alexandra Daniels), who immediately changes the subject rather than help her friend talk through her impending death. To the filmmaking team’s credit, the movie doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. It does, however, treat it with metaphorical Vaseline on the lens, softening all the edges until it’s just a blurry mess.
If you and your mother want a wicked laugh on her special day — and you will definitely laugh — Mothers and Daughters might be the best thing to watch post–Bloody Mary, but if you’re looking for a movie that captures the special something of dual-generational female relationships, this isn’t it.