Mark Reviews Movies

Fun Mom Dinner


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Alethea Jones

Cast: Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Adam Scott, Rob Huebel, Adam Levine, Paul Rust

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, crude sexual material, and drug use)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 8/4/17 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 3, 2017

If a movie is going to tell the story of a wild and crazy night out on the town, the night on the town at least should be convincingly wild and crazy. With Fun Mom Dinner, I'd even forgive it for not being convincing, if only the movie had a sense of what's wild and crazy. The women here—all four of them stressed-out from various mothering activities, relationship issues, and/or social pressures—sneak away into a public restroom to smoke a legally-obtained joint, before the fire alarm goes off and the sprinklers are activated. That's pretty much the height of the movie's idea of wild and hectic.

It's the polite version of the recent string of movies about women being just as rowdy and into shenanigans as the men who usually appear in such movies. The screenplay by Julie Rudd teases in regards to the sophomoric and even juvenile stuff—sex, drugs, bodily functions, social delinquency. It doesn't want to go too far, though, lest anyone be put off by such humor. Instead, it hints, for example, at an alternate meaning for a term that one of the mom's believes she has invented for making locker decorations that look like rosebuds. The movie doesn't explain the other meaning and, probably for the best, doesn't show it, but it does offer a disgusted reaction from the woman who "invented" the term. The movie only goes so far as to have the brashest of the quartet offer the punch line: "That's an anus."

This is amusing on a certain level, because it leaves the rest up to our imagination, but it's not really a joke. It's a throwaway line taken from a throwaway setup. The woman is really into social media, and this is, one supposes, her payback for that obsession. Nothing else comes of it. It's just an opportunity for the woman who supposedly doesn't have a filter to use the most filtered, anatomically correct word available to her. Language matters in jokes and building characters, and this situation doesn't convince us that there's a real joke here or that the character who says the punch line is the type of character the movie tries to convince she is.

What neither Rudd nor director Alethea Jones seems to understand is that we can forgive the characters in a comedy for a quite a bit of words and behavior—as long as they make us laugh in the process. This is a movie that steps up to the line of outrageous words and behavior, only to step back a few feet out of fear of offending anyone. It never crosses that line, and it doesn't even straddle it, either. This is safe, innocuous comedy, which would be fine if the movie didn't constantly promise more than that.

The four mothers are Emily (Kate Aselton), Kate (Toni Collette), Melanie (Bridget Everett), and Jamie (Molly Shannon). All of their kids go to the same school (although the kids of the latter two moms might as well not exist at all, since those kids have about three scenes between them). Emily and her husband Tom (Adam Scott) are in a rough patch in their marriage, since he doesn't have time for her and seems to resent the time they do spend together. Kate is Emily's best friend since high school. She has her marriage to Andrew (Rob Huebel) together enough, but she has had enough of participating in "mom stuff"—the meetings, the get-togethers, the mother-and-child activities.

Melanie, the "outrageous" one of the group, and Jamie, the divorced social-media addict, invite Emily to one of their regular "fun mom dinners." For her part, Emily tricks Kate into going, too. Of course, with the help of some marijuana and alcohol, the four women find out that they have a lot in common and help each through their respective problems as the night progresses.

At this point, there's pretty much a template for this kind of story, and Rudd's script doesn't veer from it. The movie alternates between hijinks and sincere scenes of the women bonding over their problems. Some of the potential of the latter parts is slightly undercut by a side story involving Tom and Andrew watching the kids, getting locked out of the house, and having their own conversations about marriage and parenting. More than anything else, it's a move that seems to preempt some imagined criticism of the movie's lack of a male perspective, but nothing is gained in these scenes, except a reason for Tom to transform, which only serves to eliminate the potential fallout of the women's long night out.

What more can be said of that night on the town? There are plenty of clichés (The women get involved in karaoke at a bar, where Emily meets a sympathetic bartender, played by Adam Levine, who's the kind of guy who makes her reevaluate her marriage in a completely non-threatening-to-monogamy sort of way), and the climax is a weirdly staged chase involving a boat. Everything in Fun Mom Dinner is tidily wrapped up in the end, because actual, convincing conflict could disrupt the safety of a feel-good, reassuring comedy.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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