With some serious slim pickings at the cinema on this random weekend in August, I decided to take the opportunity to stay at home and have a look at one of the ever more frequent Netflix feature releases. Of course, Netflix being the home invading, multi million eyes platform that is favoured by many in 2019, many of these films can be A. of a really high standard, and B. viewed by scores more people than the average cinema release. Roma almost swept the board at the Oscars back in February, but something, just something, told me that Otherhood wasn’t quite going to follow suit.
And oh boy, wasn’t I right. The film tells the story of Carol (Angela Bassett), Gillian (Patricia Arquette) and Helen (Felicity Huffman), three middle aged mothers and friends who, after feeling ignored and unloved by their adult sons on Mother’s Day, take a trip to New York City to reconnect with their respective offspring. In many ways, Otherhood feels like it belongs back in time with the likes of The First Wives Club, Beaches and even Steel Magnolias, but the key, crucial difference is that whilst those films possess charm and warmth, this comedy has little to none of that.
Take a second to imagine every kind of tired romantic comedy/middle aged female characters/mother and son story cliche that you possibly can, and I guarantee you that it pops up in this narrative at some point. From start to finish, the story adds absolutely zero in terms of bringing something new to the genre or bucking against trends and tropes that just feel tired at this stage in the game.
Perhaps even more criminal is the fact that this ‘comedy’ isn’t funny. At all. Viewers are subjected to one hundred minutes of characters, of which only about two are actually likeable, arguing with one another and making decisions that could seriously be considered toxic within either a family or friendship dynamic. Mothers act overbearing, sons act shitty, the roles reverse on occasion, but somewhere along the line the all important ‘fun’ is forgotten. Ever since the success of things likes Bridesmaids a decade or so ago, it feels like some filmmakers assume you can make a great female centric, female lead movie by just having the characters talk about sex and say fuck more than they used to, but for a film like this, you need to do so much more. There are a couple of tender moments that work better when the film is at its most sincere, but even then it doesn’t go higher than the most generic of Hallmark movies.
Ultimately, Otherhood feels like a film that is caught between wanting to be a kind of saucy Girl’s Trip type movie for the middle aged and a much more ‘safe’ family dramedy, the problem being that it’s nowhere near good enough to be heralded as a good example of either.
If the film has any saving grace at all, it is in the performances and charisma of some of its cast. It is a universally acknowledged fact that Angela Bassett is a goddess, and she is certainly the stand out personality in this messy venture. As the widowed, initially demure Carol Walker, Bassett is a joy to watch as she comes out of her shell and works on her relationship with her son Matt (Sinqua Walls), it’s a just a shame that the material with which Bassett has to work is so uninteresting.
Everybody’s new favourite white collar criminal Felicity Huffman gives a rather strange performance as Helen Halston. She’s an unlikeable character right from the beginning, and to be honest the plot does very little for her in terms of redemption. There is a stiffness in Huffman’s performance that I’m not entirely sure is all character choice, and one again it’s sad to see an actress who was so fantastic in the likes of TransAmerica having to deal with this poor material.
The same can be said for Patricia Arquette as Gillian Lieberman. I mean, come on, the woman won an Oscar a couple of years ago, and now this? I can’t say that the three actresses together on screen don’t have a few charismatic and enjoyable moments, because they definitely do. Again, it really does come down to the other elements of the movie being so uninspiring. Like I said, Angela Bassett in particular provides something positive to take from the picture, but at the end of the day a single performance is nowhere near enough for me to be able to recommend it.
Overall, Otherhood is not one to add to Netflix’s growing list of great releases. Who knows, perhaps I’m not the right audience for it. Perhaps you need to be a middle aged mother, or a divorcee, or simply the other side of fifty, but to be honest I would hope those demographics deserve more than this. It’s generic, it’s not funny, it’s not charming and ultimately just a bit too cringe. A rubbish project full of actresses that are capable of much, much better.