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Film review: Mother’s Day * and The Boy and the Beast ***

By Preston Wilder

Do people even say “What are your plans for Mother’s Day?”? Does that really happen? I’m not even sure when Mother’s Day is, mostly because it varies – ‘Mothering Sunday’ in the UK was in early March, but the official holiday in the US (and apparently Cyprus) is next Sunday – never mind making special plans for it. That line of dialogue appears in Mother’s Day, the latest in an ongoing project by 81-year-old director Garry Marshall who made New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day and is now looking further afield to more unofficial holidays. Coming soon: Cameron Diaz, Richard Gere and Lupita Nyong’o in ‘Earth Day’.

Like the two previous Marshall joints, Mother’s Day is a case of intertwining stories, four of them in fact. Story A has frazzled single mum Jennifer Aniston surprised by the news that her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has just got remarried to a ridiculously younger woman who helpfully asks Jen to “Tweet at me” if she needs anything. Story B has widower Jason Sudeikis (not a mother, but never mind) trying to bring up his daughters after the death of his wife. Story C has sisters Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke trying to keep it a secret from their toxic, trailer-trash parents – fortunately far away in Texas, or are they? – that Kate is married to an Indian man and Sarah is a lesbian. And Story D has troubled Britt Robertson trying to reconnect with her long-lost biological mum Julia Roberts, thereby hoping to get over her “abandonment issues” and marry her boyfriend who is (a) British and (b) a truly terrible stand-up comic.

The film thinks his stand- up is hilarious, of course – and maybe it is, at least compared to Aniston in full whiny/needy mode (I’d hoped Horrible Bosses had cured her of that) and the two-hour tedium of one talky sitcom scene after another. Aniston’s kid has an asthma attack. Sudeikis is embarrassed when his teenage daughter needs tampons. And so on and so forth – though in fact the actual process of mothering (which is what we celebrate on Mother’s Day) gets short shrift here. The kids – including 10-year-old Ella Anderson, who’s also in The Boss this week – are accessories, literally so when the British guy ends up going onstage with his baby; most of the parenting has to do with the fallout from parenting, i.e. after the kids have grown up. Watching this film, one might conclude that Mother’s Day is a day drenched in guilt, when adults offer belated thanks (and/or apologies) to the mothers who gave up their youth in order to mother them. Maybe it is.

The Boy and the Beast could also refer to a mother, albeit a beastly one like Mrs Bates in Psycho. No mothers here, however – just a bunch of fathers and father figures, young Kyuta finding his way through the streets of Tokyo to the world of beasts, a kind of parallel dimension ruled by a benign rabbit lord. The lord is about to depart (actually, he’s about to be reincarnated into a god) and two beasts vie for his crown, regal leonine Iozen and gruff, ursine Kumatetsu. The latter needs an apprentice in order to qualify, and decides to take on Kyuta even though the boy is human – and even though selfish, perpetually angry Kumatetsu makes a terrible teacher.

As implied by the names, this is Japanese anime (dubbed into English) – and god knows what the local kid audience will make of it (it’s more suitable for teens, or indeed grown-ups), since it’s not like the usual talking-animal cartoons. At one point, the rabbit lord calls out for “insight regarding the nature of true strength”. Later, a surprisingly Buddhist rock provides that very insight: “I do not try to be strong. I try to simply be”. Later still, the film makes a sudden sideways move to the world of humans, shedding the fantasy elements and introducing Kyuta to the dad he never knew. Then there’s “the Darkness” which all humans harbour in their hearts – visualised as a shadow with a hole where its heart should be – Kyuta’s ultimate foe being Kyuta himself.

There’s a lot to take in here – but much of The Boy and the Beast is also delightful, especially the early scenes with constant bickering between the titular duo (the film is expertly dubbed, maybe because it was done with trained voice actors instead of movie stars). The animation is impressive, boasting imaginative detail – as the two beasts grapple, we cut to a tray with glasses trembling at the moment of impact – and vivid urban crowd scenes. And, though the structure is shaky (that sudden halfway segue doesn’t really work), the characters are richer than usual, Kumatetsu hamstrung by his own immaturity – he’s little more than a child himself – as well as being a comically blustering Baloo to the boy’s Mowgli. If your Mother’s Day plans include a visit to the cinema, Boy and the Beast should be high on your list. Oh, and call your Mum, you know she worries.

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