Film & Television

Four Weddings, A Funeral, and Two Streaming Duds

Over the last several years, we’ve had the opportunity to promote a number of smart, mature, and women-centric originals on streaming services Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. With healthy budgets and no advertisers to satisfy, many of these programs have been innovative, thought-provoking, and boundary-pushing. But, with literally hundreds of shows produced, there have been some duds too. Alas, for every shining Orange Is the New Black, Handmaid’s Tale, and Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, there’s the other end of the spectrum.

In this case, it’s called Otherhood.

I can just imagine how excited Netflix executives must have been when Otherhood was pitched. It was to star (and be executive produced by) three Hollywood A-listers: Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette, and Felicity Huffman, and written and directed by an alumna of HBO’s tremendous hit Sex and the City, Cindy Chupak. Unfortunately, Otherhood doesn’t live up to its potential.

The movie focuses on three middle-aged, empty-nest mothers. Fast friends since their now-grown sons were little boys, they get together for brunch every Mother’s Day to reminisce, commiserate, and drink (alcohol plays a large role in the film; sometimes larger than necessary). Their sons, who have left their comfortable family homes in Poughkeepsie to pursue their dreams in NYC, have forgotten to call or write or visit. (“This isn’t motherhood anymore,” one mom observes, “it’s more like otherhood.” Hence the title.) Buoyed by righteousness and bourbon, the mothers pack up and head to New York to confront their negligent offspring and teach them a lesson about filial respect and responsibility. Intergenerational mayhem ensues.

Bassett, Arquette, and Huffman (each of whom has either an Oscar nomination or the statuette itself) make the most of the material, but aren’t given much to work with. Each of the moms is pretty much a two-dimensional character.

Carol (Bassett) is a still-grieving widow, understated if not downright frumpy. She was once an aspiring artist, but now leads art classes at the local senior center. Her son Matt (Sinqua Walls) lives in a sleek downtown loft and art directs a men’s magazine. He’s also a womanizer, as Carol quickly discovers. In fact, one of his sexy hook-ups turns out to be “almost 18.” Luckily, Mom is there to run interference.

Gillian (Arquette) is an overbearing Jewish mother (she converted, we learn, for no particular reason). She teaches piano lessons and worries about her son’s love life—with cause, it turns out. Daniel (Jake Hoffman, son of Dustin) is an aspiring novelist who finally decides to propose to his hairdresser girlfriend Erin (SNL’s Heidi Gardner) minutes before he walks in on her personal trainer naked in her kitchen. As my own offspring would say, “Awkward!”

Helen (Huffman) is immaculately dressed and doing everything she (and a team of plastic surgeons) can do to avoid aging. She’s divorced and remarried, although she takes husband number two for granted. Her son Paul (Jake Lacy) is a pony-tailed window display designer who lives in a gorgeous townhouse with his boyfriend and a group of gay men. Helen’s beef with Paul is that he never formally came out to her, but did have the requisite conversation with his father. (“Because you already knew,” he insists.) She also learns that he has donated sperm to a lesbian couple and that she’s — gasp — a grandmother.

After the boozy brunch, the road trip, and the mother-son reunions, the rest of the story is pretty much what you would expect. The women have some fish-out-of-water adventures in the big city. The women give Carol a fabulous makeover. The women uncover secrets and fight amongst themselves. Most importantly, the women realize that their sons aren’t the only ones who need to change. The sons, meanwhile, learn their lessons and start appreciating their mothers, who, after all, deserve it.

“You didn’t call on Mother’s Day,” Gillian complains. “I texted you,” Daniel points out. “I birthed you,” Gillian comes back. Game, set, match.

Writer-director Chupak’s background may have hurt Otherhood more than it helped. The quippy dialogue feels better suited for a half-hour sitcom than a full-length film. None of the characters is fully fleshed out, and in truth, none of them is wholly likable. (When you think back to Sex and the City, Carrie and company weren’t all that sympathetic either.) And one scene, in which Carol, who has learned of her late husband’s infidelity, takes his fishing trophies off the wall and throws them in the pool, would have been satisfyingly fun had it not been stolen lock, stock, and barrel from Bassett’s more memorable turn as the betrayed wife in Waiting to Exhale.

In a “truth is more interesting than fiction” twist, Otherhood was originally slated to be released for Mother’s Day. Netflix held it back because Huffman was in the news for pleading guilty in a college admissions scandal. Allegedly, she paid $15,000 to fraudulently improve her daughter’s SAT scores. It’s the kind of move that Helen might have resorted to. “Mother is a verb,” she declares early on. “It requires action.”

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