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Mothers Day at The Movies

There are several new releases that were conveniently timed for Mothers Day, with mothers in lead roles, and the best of the bunch is probably the least visible to mass audiences.

It’s not “Life of the Party,” starring Melissa McCarthy as the mother of a college student whose husband announces his intention to seek a divorce, moments after they drop off their daughter for her senior year. 20+ years earlier, she had put her own college and career plans on hold to focus on being a mother and wife and finds herself blindsided and suddenly directionless – until the idea of finishing her own degree takes hold. This sets up the basic premise of the movie – the supposedly inherent hilarity of a mother and daughter attending the same college at the same time.

And, in fairness, it is very funny – at least occasionally. But it’s also woefully inconsistent, with entire scenes falling flat faster that McCarthy can take a gratuitous prat fall. Much of the humor is based on one recurring sub-plot, the relationship between McCarthy’s character and the fraternity brother of her daughter’s boyfriend, with whom she hooks up at the first party of the year. It’s an awkward running joke as it shifts continually between the sincerity of his feelings and the insincerity that’s necessary to make it a punchline.

The movie also bounces around inconsistently as emotions and dynamics between characters shift for reasons of screenplay advancement more than anything resembling genuine character arcs. The end result is a movie that yields laughs that are separated by periods of wondering where the next laugh was supposed to be. Going to college with your Mom might actually be more fun than watching this.

It’s not the action alternative “Breaking In,” in which Gabrielle Union plays a mother of two who has to arrange for the sale of her estranged father’s house after he’s killed while out jogging. It’s never entirely clear what he did for a living, but it was apparently at least a little shady and there are also unexpected people at the vast house in search of a stash of cash that’s supposedly somewhere in a hidden safe.

The small gang of ex-cons present what could be an interesting dynamic of somewhat mixed levels of apparent ruthlessness, but that internal conflict is never really exploited. Instead, it’s a steady war of attrition as the mother fights against the odds to free her children, with multiple statements about how they shouldn’t underestimate her – but we’re never given any great sense of quite why she’s able to do so.

That said, it works surprisingly well, managing to find new twists and setups for perceived jeopardy and success. The foreshadowing is a little heavy at times, following the basic screenwriting premise of never showing the audience something that won’t come in useful later in the film – except perhaps for the bad guy with the heart of gold. And it has that element that’s often so interesting of putting a seemingly ordinary person into a bad position that causes the audience to compare and contrast with what their own reactions and solutions might be in a similar situation.

It’s not even the re-release of “Mamma Mia” in a sing-along version (exclusively at United Artist’s Laguna Village, 10:00am on Sunday, May 13).

The best film celebrating mothers and strong women this week is “RBG,” a documentary playing at the Tower Theatre that celebrates the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom one of the speakers in the film describes as the closest thing to a real life superhero she knows.

Many know her for her pithy dissents in several recent decisions by the high court, but she built her career with a steady dismantling of laws that discriminated, primarily against women, along purely gender lines. She had attended law school at a time when few women were there and even fewer were welcome. And she had to maintain her own studies while supporting her cancer stricken husband, who was also in law school, and raising their infant daughter.

She’s a double cancer survivor herself, without having missed a day on the Court, and routinely works through the night while the Court is in session, testing the stamina of her much younger clerks. She’s a tiny, quiet and naturally introverted woman who has left, and continues to leave, an indelible and enormous impact on American life and law. And she was the Mom to watch this Mothers Day.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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