Saturday, August 13, 2016
THIS ONE GOES OUT TO ALL THE MOMMIES OUT THERE: a review of "Bad Moms"
Written and Directed by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
*** (three stars)
Sometimes, or perhaps more truthfully, most of the time, I am thankful that I am not a parent.
Don't get me wrong, dear readers, this feeling is not due to a dislike of children for you know (only if you are regular visitors to this site or know me personally) that in the real world I have made my career as a preschool teacher with the following year marking my 20th anniversary in the field. even ore truthfully, there was once a time when I deeply wanted children (and I will admit that every once in a while, I feel a sad pang in my heart knowing that now I am long past the age I would like to have been if I were to have children) but in my life as a preschool teacher, I very quickly realized that whatever paternal needs I may house, they are more than met during the day and I deeply appreciate not having children to come home to each night.
Yet, from my specialized vantage point in the classroom, I have witnessed all manner of children and parenting, experiences that have given me a front row seat to the joy and traumas of raising children, a process that has only grown more challenging in the 21st century. In addition to all of the ins and outs of each family's home life, there are educational pressures, societal pressures, work pressures, peer pressures, scheduling pressures, health pressures and all adding up into time and sanity pressures and it truly feels that we, in our continuously accelerated and over-extended American society, none of these elements are remotely beginning to slow down.
This collection of pressures sit firmly at the core of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's "Bad Moms," a consistently funny, cheerfully vulgar, deeply affectionate and surprisingly perceptive take on Motherhood in the 21st century. No, the film does not reach the cumulative power of something like Ron Howard's "Parenthood" (1989) and it doesn't nearly scale the comedic heights of say, Paul Feig's "Bridesmaids" (2011), but in a summer movie season of overly bland, undercooked remakes and reboots, "Bad Moms" warmly proved itself to be just the refreshing cinematic treat we all need.
Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is feverishly caught within the never ending treadmill of her life. After having her first child at the age of 20 and marrying Mike (David Walton), Amy, now 32 years old and perpetually late for all life's appointments, is a loving but severely over-extended working Mom.
In addition to being employed part time (yet works six days a week) for a trendy coffee company, Amy shuttles her two children, Dylan (Emjay Anthony) and Jane (Oona Laurence), back and forth from school and all of their respective extra curricular activities, makes and packs each of them healthy lunches, completes much of their homework, and is a member of the school's PTA, which is run by the wealthy, domineering Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her sidekicks Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo), all of whom consistently keep Amy under their collective snobby thumbs. And each day, Amy monkey wrenches in daily crying sessions in her car between her endless responsibilities before heading out to do everything all over again.
After catching her husband in an online affair with a porn star and subsequently throwing him out of the house, Amy's life begins to tailspin.While she remains determined to keep it all together, her moment of truth arrives during yet another Gwendolyn led and power point/multi-media presented PTA meeting about an upcoming bake sale. As Amy is volunteered to coordinate the event, she publicly quits the PTA and ends up in a local bar to drown herself in her sorrows, but actually finds herself in the beginning moments of changing the trajectory of her life.
It is at the bar where Amy officially meets the mousy, friendless, housewife and Mother of four named Kiki (Kristen Bell) as well as the foul mouthed, sexually voracious, yet equally friendless single Mother named Carla (Kathryn Hahn). After jointly commiserating about their lives as Mothers while also bonding over the unconditional love they all possess for their children, the trio blaze free from the constrictions of their lives with an all night bender, which then inspires Amy to loosen up and be a so-called "bad mom," as she soon begins taking days off from work, feeding her children fast food, declining to continue doing their homework and taking her husband's prized classic sports car out on the road.
But in becoming that so-called "bad mom," and despite her continuing battles with Gwendolyn and struggles with her exceedingly anxious daughter, is Amy slowly discovering that she is indeed and more truthfully becoming a better mom?
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's "Bad Moms," while not perfect, was really a nice, entertaining surprise to see on a hot summer's afternoon. Essentially, what we have is kind of a sitcom movie. Bright, shiny, and fast paced with characters consumed with all manner of problems and issues that are resolved happily and tied up in a sparkling bow in the film's final scenes. In fact, the film often feels written, directed, edited and even acted as if it is more of a montage heavy sitcom than a movie. Not exactly the most positive quality but also not something that was really a hindrance either, especially as Mila Kunis turned in a performance that specializes as much with her screwball comedy skills, her gleeful ease with tossing around a myriad of four letter words as well as her genuine warmth that did radiate from the screen, supplying her character with an engaging, relatable personality that makes you root for her success as well as fully understanding her plight.
Kristen Bell and especially Kathryn Hahn fare slightly less well. While they share an easy chemistry with Kunis, both of their characters are more than a bit underwritten, making them a little one-note and therefore, forcing Bell and Hahn to creatively fill in some character blanks to varying degrees. Hahn, playing the R rated comedy's resident wild card, I felt that she hit the pedal a bit too hard, selling her vulgarity a little too strongly, where she inched dangerously close to caricature instead remaining within the confines of a realistic character. When she dialed it down a tad and carried a more natural rhythm, as in the scene where Carla, Kiki and Amy discuss the perils of having sex with an uncircumcised partner, "Bad Moms" soars into breathless hilarity.
Faring much better was Christina Applegate, a sitcom and stage veteran who clearly knows precisely how to sell the lines, jokes and overall attitude without falling into parody while also consistently keeping the insufferably snooty Gwendolyn realistic...sometimes frighteningly so, as I recognized her type so very well due to my preschool teaching adventures. As with Julia Louis-Dreyfus' struggles with the two "meanie moms" on the terrific television series "The New Adventures Of Old Christine" (an actual sitcom that I think is much better written than this film), it was because of Applegate and the competitive rapport she shared with Mila Kunis that made the predictable sitcom level "one-upsMOMship" funny as well as rooted within some sense of reality, speaking to the inter-social/class/political tensions that exist within different sub groups of Mothers, this time as featured in the predominantly White and wealthy northern suburbs of Chicago were battlegrounds are drawn on children's soccer team fields and PTA boards.
This is where the sitcom aspect of "Bad Moms" actually worked very well as the plot conventions, again very predictable, kept the film moving briskly, allowing the comedy and most importantly, the underlying honesty that fuels this film, to shine brightly. Here is where Lucas and Moore really got me on their sides, despite any slight flaws I felt the film possessed. Satirical moments concerning rampant food allergies hit extremely close to home, for instance. One scene where Amy scolds her son Dylan through a great monologue about precisely why she will never do his homework again, almost made me cheer the screen as it spoke humorously while also armed with a razor sharp honesty about the sense of entitlement that has plagued so many children via well meaning parents.
Best of all, I felt was once the film was all said and done, I was extremely appreciative that Lucas and Moore have written and directed a film the is celebratory, appreciative and touchingly sentimental about Motherhood and all of its peaks and valleys. That perhaps being a "bad mom" is actually being a "great mom," for how can one successfully parent without caring for oneself? Not to a selfish degree, by nay means. But one where the care of oneself can lead to a potentially more stable and less stressful life for parents and their children.
We see in the relationship between Amy and her daughter exactly how our adult anxieties can easily filter down to our offspring, making for extremely anxious children, saddled with worries and frustrations they may not be terribly equipped to navigate due to being so young. I appreciated deeply how none of the children in the film are ever viewed as burdens by any of the parents within the film, which was another refreshing quality (and perhaps a subtle thump to the head of parents who just may treat their children as irritating burdens).
Best of all, and despite the tactics of Gwendolyn and her mean mom crew, "Bad Moms" as its core is a film that celebrates female friendships and depicts how once all Moms band together in community and solidarity, whether for school activities or an old fashioned alcohol infused house party splashdown! In essence, there really aren't any villains in the film as Lucas and Moore give all of their leading characters their due, their fairness, and their empathy, ultimately bathing "Bad Moms" in a heartwarming glow that is legitimately earned and fully sustained in a lovely end credit sequence that I will not describe here but is indeed a treat!
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's "Bad Moms" is a summertime frothy suburban fantasy delight. A film in the vein of past domestic comedies like the Stan Dragoti directed/John Hughes scripted "Mr. Mom" (1983), Stephen Herek's "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead" (1991) and Sam Weisman's tender but slightly less successful divorced Dad comedy "Bye Bye Love" (1995). Honest, affectionate and unafraid to be as heartwarming as it is nasty, "Bad Moms" is the perfect "Girls Night Out" party movie that not only may rejuvenate a nation's worth of over-extended parents but also an inexcusably unoriginal movie season.