Bad Moms

Posted by Joel Copling on July 29, 2016

It all could have gone horribly awry. The filmmakers could have exerted little effort in making an appealingly bright-looking comedy and resorted to sub-par-television-sitcom for their movie's aesthetic. Those same filmmakers could have cranked out a screenplay that had outward contempt for their audience, both the intended demographic and everyone else theoretically outside of it. The actresses all could have looked desperately bored, disinterested, or, worse, disdainful toward material they thought below them. To this critic's great surprise, "Bad Moms" has a surprising amount of compassion -- toward its central trio of actresses, toward another trio playing the "villains" of the piece, and toward moms themselves. It's an equal-opportunity crowd-pleaser and a very raucous comedy, to boot.

All of the characters (except, perhaps, for the main one) are archetypes, but writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore thankfully don't confine them to those types. There is room to breathe and grow within these women -- and the men, too, even with a narrower, slightly uglier view of most of them. This is thankfully not a film that becomes a sanctimonious sermon about how women can be equal to men. It would be more accurate to say that the film already knows this. The range of frustrations -- parental, maternal, social, and sexual -- are on full display here, treated as both funny and stressful. In fact, it's quite an accomplishment on the film's part that such frustrations are the source of the film's delicate balance between the crass and the honest. It helps that these are the actresses filling these roles, too.

Mila Kunis is Amy, the "helicopter mom" whose days consist of shuttling her two kids (Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony) to and from school, working three days of the week for a boss (Clark Duke) who is younger and dumber than she, and "parenting" an at-home husband (David Walton) whom she discovers is cheating on her with an online chatroom floozy. Kristen Bell is Kiki, the stay-at-home mother whose own husband is a domineering jerk and who has quite the oddball fantasy about how to get away from her offspring for a couple of weeks. Kathryn Hahn is Carla, the single mother who is sex-obsessed, annoyed by all the rules spelled out for her by societal gender roles (such as that irritating thing where she's gotta tell her kids she loves them), and hell-bent on bedding anyone and everyone in her vicinity.

The point, of course, is that women can be just as sexually frustrated as men, except that different biology places the brunt of those frustrations upon different avenues of stress, which, of course, leads to different outlets for that stress. The directors and the actresses are careful about not allowing these women to be just off-putting, gender-swapped versions of male characters who would "get away with" this stuff more freely. There are consequences here, too, and the film is, again, surprisingly intelligent in the ways by which it handles those consequences. The plot pits the trio of women against super-mom Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate, at her icy best before a climax that offers some context to the attitude) and her lackeys Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumulo) and in particular the leaders of both groups (Amy and Gwendolyn) when they decide to run against each other for president of the local school's PTA.

The plot is also a clothesline on which to hang the movie, as its outcome is inevitable and the tactics each uses to gain that small amount of power predictably raise in stakes as the election draws nearer. Some romantic entanglements ensue when Amy becomes closer to Jessie (Jay Hernandez), the "hot widower" who is actually incredibly considerate, and yes, that thread resolves itself equally as predictably. Where the film's strengths lie is in the performances from the trio of actresses at its center. All of them are capable performers, with Kunis and Bell sympathetic presences as two women prone to the heaviest strain and Hahn the undeniable standout as a riotous free spirit with a heart of sunshine and not an unkind bone in her body. "Bad Moms" is definitely R-rated, but there's a sweetness underneath the scatology that is disarming. It's a pleasant surprise.

Film Information

Mila Kunis (Amy), Kathryn Hahn (Carla), Kristen Bell (Kiki), Christina Applegate (Gwendolyn), Jada Pinkett Smith (Stacy), Annie Mumolo (Vicky), Oona Laurence (Jane), Emjay Anthony (Dylan), David Walton (Mike), Jay Hernandez (Jessie), Clark Duke (Dale), Wendell Pierce (Principal Burr).

Directed and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.

Rated R (sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, drug/alcohol content).

101 minutes.

Released on July 29, 2016.