Reviews

‘Otherhood’: What’s So Funny About Toxic Mothers?

It’s hard not to be suspicious of a Mother’s Day movie not released on Mother’s Day—is it good enough on its own that it doesn’t need a holiday to bolster its success, or is it that bad that it can’t possibly compete with other Mother’s Day blockbuster offerings?

Otherhood, at its surface, seems like your usual Netflix churn-out. With big names crowding the top bills and cinematography that makes the film feel more like a 90-minute TV commercial, it begins innocently enough: three mothers are gathered for brunch, where exposition is the main course. It’s Mother’s Day and their children never called (“He texted me! He could’ve gotten me bath salts; is that hard?”), so of course their plan of action is to drop everything, pack their bags, and take over their sons’ homes.

Invasive parents have been a staple in feel-good comedies for some time, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that; parents can be invasive in real life, that’s why its humor works. But this trope very easily crosses toxic territory if the parents in question are not called out for their behavior. Unlike its better-made predecessor Blockers, where the parents learn to trust and let go of their teenage daughters, Otherhood rewards its mothers for their ignoring of boundaries. The movie is essentially our three protagonists repeatedly squeezing themselves into their sons’ lives, trying to control of it, and they suffer no consequences by the end.

And as if it can’t get any better, one mother’s meddling results in the grand happy ending, sending the message that parents are never wrong, and that the only way you can show your children you care is through micromanaging every facet of their lives. The film, in its effort to follow the template of your usual misguided, saccharine streaming selection, gives the characters a fairytale ending they frankly don’t deserve. Before the cheese of the third act, Felicity Huffman asks a glowing Patricia Arquette, “Was our mission a success?” referring to their plan to regain their sons’ affection. “Look where we are now,” the latter replies. It’s easier and more crowd-pleasing to redeem these characters than inspect the harm of their actions, after all. Besides, no one watches a film like Otherhood if they want a critique of invasive parenthood.

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What’s more disappointing is that the film had promise. In many moments, it came very close to humanizing a commodified cultural product—the Mother—but these moments were almost always played off for laughs. After a night of parties in an attempt to redefine themselves as more than mothers, our protagonists find themselves scolded by their children in a bit that ultimately doesn’t land.

It tries to be something more as well, touching on a lot of performative woke buzzwords. It exists in the socio-political climate of today but it’s very much still in its own bourgeoise bubble, cherry-picking what hashtag-woke things it wanted to mention in passing just to let the audience know that this was made in the 21st-century-feminist-woke-socially-conscious generation. It was like watching a movie adaptation of a Refinery29 article.

Narrative-wise, only Angela Bassett’s story arc felt complete, the other two seeming like afterthoughts. While it has many surprisingly effective dramatic moments, thanks entirely to Bassett and her onscreen son Sinqua Walls, Otherhood is spineless, frustrating, and definitely something I won’t be showing my movie-loving mom anytime soon.

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