Reviewer: Philip Price
Directors: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Stars: Annie Mumolo, Clark Duke, Emjay Anthony, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kathryn Hahn, Kesha, Kristen Bell, Lilly Singh, Mila Kunis, Oona Laurence
Released: August 26th, 2016
Being a male I may not be the target audience for a movie about moms cutting loose and attempting to let go of the pressures and stress they are under not to mention the inherent guilt all mothers seem to feel when everyone around them isn’t happy and settled, but still…I try to observe. In that I like to think of myself as somewhat perceptive I can see how a movie with these core ideas might be appealing to its target demographic. The thing with Bad Moms though is that right from the get-go the circumstances of this world are exaggerated in such a drastic fashion that it’s not so much funny as it is distracting-and that it’s executed poorly-makes it distractingly bad. While I haven’t been around many Jr. High PTA meetings lately it’s hard to imagine a woman in the vein of Christina Applegate’s Stepford-ish Gwendolyn having as much control over the going-ons of a public school as this woman does, much less that someone of her mentality would even care. I mean, wouldn’t her kids be in some private school where she is a dime a dozen? Petty complaints aside-Bad Moms is simply trying too hard to be what it doesn’t need to be in order to be funny. There is ample opportunity for not only exploring the interesting facets of the psyche of mothers and how they’re supposed to come off as if they have everything under control at all times, but rather than explore the small truths in the absurdity of that mentality Bad Moms resorts to F-bombs as its main source of punchlines as it isn’t inspired enough to reach for more. That isn’t to say exaggeration is wrong-comedies can thrive on that particular brand of ridiculousness, but given the circumstances and type of story writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (21 & Over) are attempting to convey such over-the-top shenanigans would have been better saved for scenarios such as the PTA meetings rather than leaning on it consistently when something a little more subtle or observational might have worked in the films favor. More examples containing small truths that hit the mark of the “funny because it’s so true” flavor rather than the “yelling makes it funnier” train of thought would have provided for more substance to both the story and these characters-letting the audience know they really do understand the struggle, but what do I know? Mothers all the way from their late-twenties to early-sixties might love this thing and there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily-I just think they might have enjoyed a more adept approach to the same material a little more. I think they deserve it.
From the outside it would seem Amy (Mila Kunis) has the perfect life-married to the well-established Mike (David Walton) whom she has two over-achieving kids with, Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony), all living under the roof of a beautiful home on the outskirts of Chicago with a cozy career in coffee sales. Of course, in reality, Mike is little more than a lazy slob who doesn’t help out with the kids and their endless calendar of extracurricular activities, but still expects Amy to cook dinner and serve it to him fresh while retreating to the office early to participate in his own extracurricular activities. On the kiddo front, Jane can hardly stand her mother who doesn’t seem to understand how critical making the soccer team is to her getting into an Ivy League college despite the fact she’s only twelve. On the other hand, Amy’s constant catering has allowed Dylan to become a lazy student who tries to lean on the crutch of labeling himself a “slow learner” though it’s clear this disability is due to the fact his mother does all of his homework and prepares a four course meal for breakfast every morning. This is all to go along with the fact that, at thirty-two, she’s the oldest person “working’ at the coffee company as the no doubt trust fund kid that is her boss (played wonderfully by Clark Duke) knows very little about earning a living. Compiling the fact she is over-worked, over-committed, and downright exhausted at the end of the first day we come to meet her it is completely understandable why the bubbly persona she presents finally pops. It is at the perfectly exaggerated aforementioned PTA meeting that Amy breaks, finally having enough of the ridiculous requirements put on parents by the school’s Queen Bee (Applegate). Amy quits the school associations, decides to give her boss a taste of his own medicine by showing him how much he needs her, and making the kids fend for themselves as she finds solace in trying not to care partnering with fellow moms Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) to let it all hang out. Essentially embarking on a quest to liberate themselves from conventional responsibilities-doing many a very un-mom-like things, and allowing a little self-indulgence in their lives-they earn the titular title in the most innocent of ways in that they aren’t really being bad, but rather simply getting back to discovering who they are beneath all those parental requirements.
Though it is indeed somewhat ironic the two guys who wrote The Hangover AKA the biggest “dudes behaving badly” movie of all time have now turned to writing women characters in somewhat of an insightful and respectful light it’s their inability to make this look or feel like anything other than an assembly line comedy that sinks the film more than some of its poor attempts at comedy. To be totally honest-I laughed a fair amount because, like I said, there are times when the only style of comedy this movie knows works and although most of those scenarios featured Hahn’s Carla character, I was still laughing. What doesn’t work as much is the writing paired with the TV quality of the visuals. To be as kind as possible would be to say that the film looks rudimentary while much of the writing outside the three principle characters and especially the stuff concerning the main ideas the movie is trying to tackle feels amateur at best. Speaking to that previously discussed idea of that inherent feeling of guilt all mothers seem to feel it’s as if Bad Moms wants to bring this facet of its main characters personalities into the light while highlighting that they can do away with it as easily as they put it on themselves. Once these moms realize they have become enablers who have created not only spoiled and entitled kids, but husbands as well, they are able to admit to themselves that by caring and trying as much as they do they are seemingly only making things worse. That by being so stressed out it all the time only rubs off on everyone around them creating a general atmosphere of dread. Audiences will see their course correction coming from a mile away despite the fact the characters can’t see it themselves. Touching on finding the right balance in life, on letting things go while still trying, but allowing fate to let things work out as they inevitably will Bad Moms has a fair amount of solid ideas bouncing around in a movie that’s trying as hard as its characters are. Rather than trying to keep everything under control though, the film is trying too hard to be funny-pushing vulgar buttons for the sake of being vulgar and little more. Like these moms feel at the end of the day, I was desperate for a break from the film by the time the narrative drive took hold fifty minutes in.
In spite of not being the best at conveying what it aspires to get across Bad Moms isn’t all bad. What works best about the film is the odd couple relationship and genuine camaraderie between the three leads. While Kunis is clearly the captain of this ship her performance feels strangely disconnected. Even when her character is allowed to eventually cut loose it can’t help but feel like she is going through the motions-waiting for this manufactured (and it feels totally manufactured) life she’s pretending to live to be over so she can cash a check and go home. What holds this central performance up is that of her strong support. While Applegate is perfect for this den mother/mean girl role with Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo serving as the requisite cronies in her clique it is both Hahn and Bell who end up stealing the show with two distinct, but equally great performances-one bringing the outlandish qualities the film excels at to their peaks with the other highlighting the more subtle humor I wished the script would have featured more of. Hahn though, is essentially the reason to watch this thing if you’re going to bother with it at all as her Carla is the mom who inherently doesn’t care and only encourages Amy and Kiki to join her at the bar on school nights. Hahn has been around and a strong comedic force for some time now (guys will fondly remember her similar role inStep Brothers while the ladies will undoubtedly love her from the early How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days role), but me? I’m just happy to see Hahn in such a prominent role in a comedy led by and about women. In what feel like and are likely heavily improvised scenes featuring the three main characters Hahn shines in highlighting how much she enjoys being a single mom and the perks that come along with it while Bell perfectly balances Hahn’s brazen performance by looking as if she’s seriously contemplating every comment Carla makes and is considering the pros and cons of possibly leaving her own husband. It is the little things such as this that make certain moment in Bad Moms shine so much brighter than those when Lucas and Moore result to no less than five montages set to awkwardly placed pop songs and decide to play parts of every one of those montages in slow motion. They are techniques that undermine the insight their actors are providing for them and even though such elements give off a “fun” vibe they only feel stale in context whereas the glimpses of authenticity and accuracy that Hahn and Bell provide are what should be the cues for the bass to drop.