Bad Moms Review

(2.5 STARS)

A recent trend in comedy writing and filmmaking is to turn the mundane into something debaucherous. It probably started with The Hangover, which took a typically debaucherous activity — the bachelor party — and elevated it to a level previously unthinkable. Slowly, this type of story took over movies about “regular life.” Bad Teacher gave us a depraved educator. Horrible Bosses depicted unfathomable employer-employee relationships. Sisters told us we’re never too old to rage with our siblings. And now Bad Moms turns motherhood and its accompanying “wit’s-end-ness” into the throwdown to end all throwdowns.

It does feel odd as a man (and one without kids at that) to comment on what this film gets right and wrong about motherhood. At the same time, despite filling out its primary cast with six wonderful actresses, it’s written and directed by two men. What I’ll say is this: I don’t know how much Bad Moms exaggerates the exasperation and exhaustion of parenting, but it certainly inflates the degree to and manner in which one must blow off steam. It also clearly has no idea what the PTA is, but that’s another conversation…

Amy (Mila Kunis) is our primary heroine. She’s got a great job at a coffee company and two wonderful kids, but she’s struggling. It’s tough running from school, to work, back to school, to soccer practice, pick up dinner, home, back out for the PTA meeting, and home again. It’s tougher when your husband — in this case, Mike (David Walton) — is a loser who doesn’t do anything but masturbate with women on the internet.

When Amy catches him, she throws him out and is really in this alone. She resents women like Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), who seem to revel in Amy’s exhaustion, but she finds allies in Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn). The latter is a single mother, while the former might as well be. They don’t seem to have much else in common, but their time together is an absolutely essential release in all three of their respective lives, and Amy finds herself enjoying her days and living life for herself for the first time since she was 20.

Gwendolyn, however, loathes this sudden care-free attitude Amy is beginning to impart on other moms at their suburban Chicago school. Following a heated confrontation, Gwendolyn conspires to get Amy’s daughter benched on the soccer team, which leads to Amy escalating matters even further: She runs for president of the PTA against her arch nemesis.

Make no mistake: None of these characters is fleshed out whatsoever. Amy is a one-dimensional protagonist; Gwendolyn a paper-thin villain. Carla is this movie’s Melissa McCarthy/Zach Galifianakis. Kiki is probably the most interesting woman in the film, and Kristen Bell plays her with some doe-eyed delight.

But writers and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are, for whatever reason, more interested in “shots and awe” — drunken antics that are scandalous because these women aren’t supposed to be in this physical and psychological place. Bad Moms appears to have good intentions in this respect; It takes the tried and true route of an embarrassing public speech to explicitly reveal its thesis that we shouldn’t treat motherhood as a job to be suffered. Nor, the film says, should women have to sacrifice their sanity to maintain an artificial image of perfection. I’m sure that will resonate with a lot of viewers. I’m just not sure the rest of this movie is the ideal messenger.

All that said — and I have major issues with a lot of this movie — I laughed quite a bit. Kathryn Hahn is such a welcome presence in that wacky sidekick role, and she’s the source of the most twisted humor. Also great are Annie Mumolo and Jada Pinkett Smith as Gwendolyn’s reserves. Overall, the humor probably isn’t as shocking or fresh as Lucas and Moore think it is — even those who avoided the film’s marketing have seen a movie like this before and probably quite recently — but nor am I stubborn enough to begrudge this flawed movie credit where it’s due. Bad Moms sets out to make you laugh first (and arguably last), and I did. So mission accomplished.

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