Friday, August 12, 2016

Bad Moms

BAD MOMS (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, 2016)

Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) manages to juggle two kids in school and all the associated obligations, part-time work at a coffee co-op that’s more like a full-time job, and the culturally expected duties of an American wife at home. When she discovers her man-child husband having an affair via webcam, she kicks him out of the house. In BAD MOMS Amy can deal with a failing marriage, but she can no longer put up with the demands of the Parent-Teacher Association president Gwendolyn James (Christina Applegate). Her refusal to go along with rigid PTA orders puts her on Gwendolyn’s enemies list but wins her the appreciation of Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), two other overwhelmed mothers.

As a single mother and shameless flirt, Carla is pleased to make the acquaintance of someone else who has run afoul of the school’s parental hierarchy. Kiki is just happy to socialize with anyone, as her four kids give her virtually no time for herself. Amy, Carla, and Kiki are tired of the pressure to live up to an unattainable standard and thus vow from now on to be bad moms, although Carla was kind of already on that path regardless. If they want to do lunch and hang out at the movies in the middle of the day, so be it. They enjoy cutting loose for a while, but inevitably their flouting of the unspoken rules for mothers begins to have adverse effects on them and their families.

BAD MOMS is written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the duo that also wrote THE HANGOVER. While the women get to exercise some of their worst behavior, within reason, the film contains the sentimentality and platitudes of a Mother’s Day card, albeit one with a lot more dirty words. Unlike THE HANGOVER’s Wolfpack, whose raucous and destructive behavior gets accepted with a wink because boys will be boys, the moms don’t behave irresponsibly to a similar degree. The moms, of course, aren’t really bad; they just feel that way because of how they and others have defined their societal roles. Even within a film providing fleeting wish fulfillment for mothers, BAD MOMS has a hard time letting these women enjoy some guilt-free relief because we know somebody has to keep everything just so and it won’t be dads, amirite. *fist bump*

In fairness, the double standard gets challenged with Hahn’s Carla, who presents herself as an exception to the hard-striving mother ideal. She doesn’t seem to sweat her questionable actions or much of anything. When the moms share stories of parental mistakes, only her anecdotes cross the line between female bonding through mutual understanding and thinking about calling children’s protective services. Where Amy and Kiki are held back as characters because they are ultimately intended to be empowering figures, Hahn gives a bawdy performance that delivers on the concept of suburban moms breaking bad. Carla isn’t trying to impress anyone, so Hahn is allowed to let her wildness be expressed most humorously.

Bell’s reactions are quite amusing when Kiki unwittingly finds herself and her hooded sweatshirt being used to demonstrate how to manipulate an uncircumcised penis. She’s also funny responding to any bit of socializing like patiently-awaited scraps from the table. BAD MOMS is less sure of how to use Kunis’s comedic skills and often resorts to the jokes stemming from her aggression and humiliation. Overall, the film leaves the lingering feeling that these funny women and others in the cast have been shortchanged by a screenplay that finds the idea of moms who buck the norms to balance their lives as parents, spouses, and individuals more hilarious than the reality of them doing it.

Grade: C

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