Review: Otherhood (2019)

A refresher on why kids are constant disappointments.

While I was scrolling through Netflix, absentmindedly passing movies I’ve seen hundreds of times and ones I keep meaning to watch, my attention was suddenly caught by the platform’s newest original, Otherhood (2019). Immediately I went, “wait, what is this now? A dramedy starring Angela Bassett whom I worship, Patricia Arquette whom I’m indifferent to and Felicity Huffman who is currently going through the highly publicized and embarrassing college admissions scandal? Having what looks to be a fun and fabulous romp through New York City? Oh, I’m watching this!”

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 12.12.41 AM
Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

Based on the novel “Whatever Makes You Happy” by William Sutcliffe, Otherhood follows three suburban mothers whose adult sons are all grown and have moved away to New York City. After the boys neglect to call or send a gift on Mother’s Day, the mothers head out to the city and show up at their doors unannounced to repair their fractured relationships.

In the first few minutes of the movie it’s made explicitly clear that it takes place on Mother’s Day. The sons forgetting the holiday is an important plot point that’s brought up multiple times. Naturally I ask myself, “then why is this being released now in August, months after Mother’s Day?” Then I realized that the movie’s original April release date was around the time that Huffman was being connected to the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal. Yikes. not good for marketing. I’m not going to get into the scandal because it’s a messy situation and the only messy situation I have time to talk about is this movie.

Let me just start by saying that the wallets at Netflix must be pretty full if they got these three decorated actresses to star in this movie. Sure, I could see how a touching story of mothers reconnecting with their sons might first entice them, but you would think that reading the script would have each star promptly turn down the movie. You guys, this script is bonkers. Seriously, it took less than 10 minutes for Patricia Arquette’s character Gillian to say, “at this age it doesn’t feel like motherhood, it feels like otherhood.” I CACKLED. Poor joke aside, the script has worse problems.

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 12.14.57 AM
Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

Nothing about this script feels remotely real or natural. None of the dialogue sounds like something that any of these three women would actually say to one another. It sounds more like a loose collection of passing thoughts that someone had about motherhood and was like, “here are some random sound bites about being a mom they can just bounce off each other.” Look, I’m not a mother myself. Shocking, I know. But I feel like this movie was written with the intention of really trying to connect with mothers on both a comedic and emotional level and wound up failing at both. Not once did I laugh WITH the movie (although you can bet your butt that I laughed a lot AT this movie) nor did I connect with or care about any of the characters.

It’s especially hard to care about the characters when you’re dealing with three of the worst movie sons in the history of cinema. That’s right. Those kids from Children of the Corn (1984) aren’t looking so bad right now. Serious question: Do these kids hate their moms? Throughout the movie they’re all incredibly horrible to them for seemingly no reason! I mean, what kind of asshole kids don’t send flowers or even CALL on Mother’s Day? I would have taken back every negative thing I wrote down about Otherhood if at the end of the movie the moms just disowned their children and went to travel the world and live their best lives. It’s what they deserve.

It’s a common notion that mothers live for their kids, but I think that Otherhood takes it a step too far. The lives of all three women revolve around their sons to the point where they’re constantly thinking about them, helping them, or talking about them. As a result, the women get zero character development. Again, I’m not a mother so any mom who’s reading, feel free to set me straight if this is actually totally common mom behaviour. Arquette is fine if not forgettable as Gillian. I’ve never had any strong negative or positive feelings towards Arquette but I’m sad to report that of all the leading ladies, she seems to be phoning it in the most. Huffman is more or less doing her best Samantha Jones impression. Sidenote, I really loved watching Huffman because her whole character exists to get drunk and spite her son. Love it. Unsurprisingly, of this triad of stars, it’s the incomparable Angela Bassett who is the main character and steals the show.

It’s so odd seeing Bassett in a more subdued, casual role. I’m so used to seeing her as these powerful, bold larger than life characters. I kept thinking that her lifestyle as the domestic unadventurous Carol was all an act. Sadly it isn’t and even more sadly, I think I’ve just discovered that Bassett doesn’t necessarily play meek very well. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still massively charming and talented in the role, but it feels like she’s ready to give so much fire to the character that unfortunately isn’t called for in this movie. Of all three women it’s Bassett’s character that gets the most attention and her storyline with her son is easily the most compelling thanks to her and Sinqua Walls’ lovely chemistry. Huffman’s storyline with Jake Lacy is the most comical, while Arquette and Jake Hoffman’s storyline may have been best left on the cutting room floor. Of all the sons, Hoffman’s Daniel may have been the worst and the least interesting.

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 12.20.43 AM
Credit: nytimes.com / Linda Kallerus / Netflix

I originally thought that Otherhood was just bad, but I think it may safely segue into “so bad it’s good” territory. Yes, it suffers from some major flaws like an enormous amount of telling over showing and no real clear plot, but there is still something earnest about the movie as a whole. The meaningful conversations about motherhood don’t exactly offer anything new or insightful, but are just sappy enough to gently tug at the heartstrings of even the coldest critic. Plus, although I know each of them to be able to deliver so much more, I enjoyed watching Bassett, Arquette and Huffman share the screen together. Otherhood honestly reminds me of Book Club (2018) more than anything: Fabulous ladies with empty nests and asshole children who decide to throw caution to the wind. As similar as it was though, I wish Otherhood were more like Book Club in the sense that it showed much more of the ladies having fantastic later-in-life fun. Simply put, one Angela Bassett dance scene is not nearly enough. Oh my God, before they go out dancing Gillian asks, “what about the boys?” And Carol responds, “fuck the boys!” YASSS! This should have been your mindset from the beginning!! Fuck them!

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 12.22.26 AM
Credit: parade.com / Linda Kallerus / Netflix

Otherhood is the cinematic equivalent of that sticky note reminding you to call your mom. Make the time to do it and let her know how much you love and appreciate her because moms are the best. While this movie may have been a mess, I can’t deny that I had a fun time watching this wonderful trainwreck. Like, it’s the type of movie you’d watch with your friends and laugh at how silly it is and then throw popcorn at the sons. Cause seriously, fuck those sons.

Have you seen Otherhood? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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