Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, David Walton, Jay Hernandez, Clark Duke, Wendell Pierce
MPAA Rating: (for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content)
Running Time: 1:41
Release Date: 7/29/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 29, 2016
There are definitely times that one can tell Bad Moms was written by men. That's not necessarily a bad thing, although it might explain why the film sometimes seems like an apology for the most obvious of outlandish expectations for women. This is, also, not necessarily a bad thing, although that might be a reflection of the continuing double standards with which women have to deal every day.
The bar for criticizing a woman's actions/attitude/tone/appearance/etc. is far too low compared to what men can get away with on a daily basis (For evidence of that, as loathe as I am to bring politics into a review of a film that has nothing to do with them, just look at the standards to which each of the current Presidential candidates is held), so the bar for a Hollywood movie that feels empowering might be a little low, too. That seems fair, even as it's clearly and unfortunately unfair at the same time.
This is to say that the film, written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, is empowering in an incredibly safe, very cautious way. For starters, it's a comedy, and it's a really broad one at that. The characters are convenient archetypes that might as well be gender neutral. One of the three, main mothers is socially awkward and possesses little self-awareness about what she says and does, and another of the mothers only has sex on her mind. One could take this screenplay and cast two men in the roles, and the jokes would essentially stay the same—after swapping the genitalia mentioned by sex-obsessed character, of course.
The screenplay does a much better job creating a character with gender-specific concerns in Amy, the film's central character, although, again, that's a pretty low bar. She's played by Mila Kunis in a performance that goes a long way in portraying those specifics. Kunis isn't playing a type here, even though the actual setup of Amy's predicament fits squarely into a standard-issue template. After catching her lazy louse of a husband (David Walton) cheating on her with another woman (via video chat, because the husband is that pathetic), Amy finds herself adjusting to single life and in need of a major pick-me-up.
The point is that Amy is overworked—with a part-time job, taking her two kids to school, helping them with homework, driving them to extracurricular activities, doing all the shopping and cooking—and underappreciated. The breaking point comes at a PTA meeting, where Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), the school's PTA president and resident busybody (who named one of her daughters Gandhi), offers tyrannical restrictions on what can and cannot be used to prepare treats for the bake sale (She makes her case by presenting footage of Ukrainian special police beating protestors).
In protest, Amy quits the PTA. While at a local bar, she meets Carla (Kathryn Hahn), the sex-focused single mother, and Kiki (Kristen Bell), a stay-at-home mom who says and does awkward things. After commiserating over the impossible pressures of motherhood, the three decide to stop taking the whole mothering thing so seriously.
That's easy for Carla, who already believes there are too many rules for mothers these days—such as telling your kids that you love them. Hahn, by the way, has a particular way of dropping jokes with such subtlety here that it takes a second to realize how funny they are, and that's an accomplishment in a role this exaggerated. It's much harder for Kiki (Bell, it should also be noted, is very funny, too), whose own jerk of husband (Lyle Brocato) scolds her for going out to brunch with her friends. It's unfortunate that Lucas and Moore leave that relationship unexplored. It's an obvious entry point into dissecting the social expectations men have for women (The disquieting relationship just becomes a punch line later), but instead, the duo keep the examination to the standards that women hold for themselves.
That makes the film a little less obvious and, probably, a bit more open to scrutiny (from someone who, unlike this critic, has, you know, actual experience with being a wife and/or mother). The portrayal of motherly concerns here does come from the view of a pretty homogenous group: All of these women are of middle-to-upper income in a nice Chicago suburb (Shot, as with apparently all American comedies now, on blindingly over-lit sets). The conflicts center on things like PTA meetings, how to transport a kid to a Mandarin class (not if one can afford it in the first place), whether or not to get a babysitter, and other such things. As they say, though, it takes baby steps, and the film does at least take themselves.
More importantly, the film is funny and surprisingly sympathetic. The humor is raunchy while remaining just on the right side of the divide between crass and mean-spirited (the way Carla talks about her "dumb" son, for example—"dumb," by the by, is the nicest thing she has to say about the kid). The men are lousy, save for Jessie (Jay Hernandez), a "hot widower" who appreciates the work it takes to raise children since he does it on his own, but the film gives them opportunities for growth. Even Gwendolyn, who becomes despicable, ultimately isn't a target of well-deserved scorn.
The film has a big heart to go along with its gutter-oriented mind, and Lucas and Moore balance those two qualities quite well. Bad Moms is a small step in the right direction, although the credits, which feature the actresses sitting down to talk with and about their mothers, give us an idea of how to take a bigger step that way.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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