After "Valentine's Day," "New Year's Eve" and now "Mother's Day," romantic comedy magician Garry Marshall has built a franchise. The formula is simple and effective: Round up hot stars, cast them as loosely-connected sweethearts longing for love and redemption, and tie the whole thing to the emotion-tugging strings of a holiday.
These movies are the "Avengers" of the romcom world. They target their audience and serve them just as well as they do alienate the uninitiated. Sorry, haters.
Marshall, the sage filmmaker behind "Beaches," "Pretty Woman," "Runaway Bride" and what seems like 17 "The Princess Diaries" movies, may not be much of an innovator, but he knows how to play his audience like a master pianist. He may tell stories in a sappy manner, but he's adept at sprinkling in just enough cayenne into the molasses to keep his confections from seeping into Nicholas Sparks territory.
Some of his gags have cynically hard edges, and sometimes he will craft scenes based solely on adorably mild perversion, such as the opening sequence of this movie, in which Jennifer Aniston traipses around in a towel, if only to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she is, as People Magazine swears, the World's Most Beautiful Woman.
Aniston plays Sandy, a divorced single mom jealous that her ex (Timothy OIyphant) has married Tina (Shay Mitchell), a younger woman trying way too hard to play the part of cool stepmother. We float between her crisis and those of several others, such as the uptight career woman (Julia Roberts) seeking to reconnect with the girl she gave up for adoption, a pair of sisters (Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke) who hide their love lives from their estranged parents and Aniston's tailor-made match, a widower (Jason Sudeikis) struggling to move on with his love life while preserving the memory of his late wife for his two daughters.
What passes in this movie for plot twists are about as shocking as a 90-degree April day in Tucson, and more than a few plot developments spark more groans than sighs, but it doesn't matter. The movie is too sweethearted and well-executed to dislike, and its nearly two hours fly by in what seems like half that time.
So Bravo, Garry Marshall. Let's see what you can cook up for Arbor Day.
RATING: 2.5 stars out of 4.