Posted on July 28, 2016 at 11:18 pm
Even the most outrageous comedy has to have some grounding in reality, if only through taking place in a world that is consistently imagined. If we don’t know where we are, there may be jokes, but it is not truly comedy.
Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are not people with a lot of ideas. Their “21 and Over” was pretty much the same movie as their “Hangover.” And the big innovation here is that this time it’s girls-gone-wild instead of boys. But it plays like it was inspired by a couple of women’s magazine articles about the impossibility of “having it all.” The movie says it comes down on the side of not judging other mothers, those who seem to be losing it and those who seem to be holding it together. The message is that it’s good to forgive yourself for not being able to be perfect all the time. And it’s important to understand that loving your children means letting them learn to be responsible and not doing everything for them. But those good thoughts are undercut by the unexpectedly sour triumph of the main characters, with antagonists who must be shown as spineless or pitiful.
The reality of women’s lives is a target-rich environment for comedy and the reality of mothers’ lives is especially so. But this script is so lazy that it does not meet the level of basic cable sitcoms for originality and wit. Those shows may be bland and formulaic, but they have humor in 22 minutes than “Bad Moms” does in 101.
This is a movie that is supposed to be about female empowerment. There are two specific instances that involve women telling their cartoonishly awful husbands that they need to take more responsibility for their children and their households. And yet, this is a movie that consistently shows the PTA as apparently entirely made up of women, with the exception of one man who is shown at a PTA meeting specifically so he can be humiliated in public by his wife. Funny. amiright? And this is a school that apparently includes elementary, middle, and possibly high school students, does not notice when a mother does a child’s homework, and has a pot-smoking principal who can’t stand up to the President of the PTA. What?
“Hangover” worked because most of the movie was about dealing with the horrible consequences of a major sort-of-accidental bender. “Bad Moms” tries to persuade us that a bender and attendant irresponsible behavior are signs of liberation. The bender is a mild one, no tigers or tooth extractions. On the other hand, the issue of money is raised but in the kind of fairy tale way that suggests no one connected with the movie has had to think about how to pay for groceries — or damage inflicted on a grocery store — in a very long time.
We’re supposed to believe them when they talk about how much they love their kids and would do anything for them, but they don’t really seem to enjoy or support them.
And newsflash — jokes about foreskins, butt stuff, and girl-on-girl kisses as a sign of rebellion and edginess are so 1998.
The one-dimensional characters are as follows: Mila Kunis plays Amy, the exhausted mom of two who boots out her childish, cheating husband. She’s had no sex in years. Kristen Bell is Kiki, the exhausted mom of four whose husband treats her like Cinderella. They have sex once a week (“After “Blue Bloods!”) but he is not very, uh, excited or exciting. And Kathryn Hahn is Carla, the happy, unreliable slut who does not even know what a standardized test is, much less whether her son has to take and pass them. She talks about sex all the time but does not seem to be having any either. Christina Applegate is Gwendolyn, the Mean Girl (with henchmen played by Jada Pinkett-Smith and “Bridesmaids” co-writer Annie Mumolo (who should have done a major rewrite here).
One thing Lucas and Moore get right is the combination of the humblebrag and the insult-wrapped in a compliment handed out by the ladies who run the school. Yes, when they flutter their eyelashes and say, “I don’t know how you do it,” to Amy, she understands that they mean, “You’re doing it badly.” And there is a lot to be said about impossible standards and judgey people, especially when it comes to parenting. But that requires actually saying something, not just pointing it out.
Amy blows her top, decides not to try to be everything to everyone any more, and then when Gwendolyn lashes back, involving Amy’s daughter (in the Bizarro world of this movie, the head of the PTA is in charge of everything in the school), Amy decides to run against her, on a platform similar to but less authentic than that of Tammy in “Election.” Even in a PTA election, someone has to propose something more than “let’s do less and not judge each other.”
All four women are brilliant actors and comedians and make as much of this material as they can, but they all deserve much better. Jay Hernandez transcends the thankless role of the hot guy, making him the only male in the film who is not completely infantilized. Someone needs to put him in a leading man role. And someone needs to start putting women in the leading role of writing and directing stories about women, or at least men who can do better than this.
NOTE: The highlight of the movie is the series of conversations over the credits with the actresses and their real-life mothers, filled with exactly the wit and heart missing from most of the film.
Parents should know that this film is crude and explicit language throughout including very strong and crude language, drinking, drugs, sexual references and explicit nudity, and comic peril and violence.
Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standard the moms felt they had to live up to? How would this be different if it was about dads?
If you like this, try: “The Hangover”