Bad Moms (Jon Lucas/Scott Moore, 2016)
As those who read my reviews will know, I did not much like what, until now, had been this summer’s highest-profile female-centered comedy, Ghostbusters. Fortunately, along comes Bad Moms but a few weeks later, another film that focuses on women, and this time a very funny one, at that. Starring the ever-watchable Mila Kunis (Friends with Benefits), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) and, especially, Kathryn Hahn (The Visit), it tells the story of three overworked and underappreciated mothers who decide they’ve had enough of always doing what others consider the right thing. Screw it, they say, and set themselves free to look after number one for a while. The result is a truly wild ride, filled with jokes that land with panache. Often silly and profane, it’s also terrific fun, as long as the filmmakers stick to the comedy. Unfortunately, we are also treated to more sentimental moments where we are reassured that our heroines are, in fact, good people. Blah. That aside, so much of the rest is a delight that we can, perhaps, forgive all involved for those moral lessons and enjoy what works.
Kunis plays Amy, a mother of two married to a lazy jerk, who works an ostensibly part-time job where her boss expects her to show up every day. On top of all this, the PTA at her children’s school – run by the bossy Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate, Vacation) – demands ever more of her time. One particularly bad day, she dares say no to Gwendolyn and, liberated, she doesn’t stop there. She is soon joined by Carla (Hahn), a hard-drinking single mother, and Kiki (Bell), a stay-at-home mom increasingly drained by her overwhelming lack of a personal life. They form a powerful trio that presents itself as an alternative to the world – we can be good mothers even if we occasionally fail – as they take on deadbeat men and the PTA, where Gwendolyn rules with the support of her two mainstays, Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mike XXL) and Vicki (Annie Mumolo, About a Boy). Since the thrust of Amy’s new campaign for sanity involves reclaiming her sense of self, much of her rebellion revolves, at least initially, around partying. Eventually, however, she and her new friends settle down (a bit) and try to make real changes in their lives.
The film is best when it sticks to raunchy debauchery, although the final payoff is nicely managed. It’s wonderful to see these fine actresses get a chance to revel in their comedic chops without playing second fiddle to anyone but their female costars. There are a few men in the mix, but they’re mostly underwritten or written off. Co-writers/co-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who wrote The Hangover and its sequels, and wrote/directed 21 and Over) are not going to win any awards for their filmmaking aesthetic – derivative of every other flashy action, comedy, or action-comedy out there these days – but they know a good thing when they see it, and that good thing is their cast (and, let’s be fair, much of their script). So see it for the zaniness that these women bring to the screen so effectively, have a good time, and make sure to stay for the end credits, where each of the lead actresses is paired with her real-life mother for a brief, but moving, conversation that was one of my favorite parts of the film.