Bad Moms (2016)

by - July 29th, 2016 - Movie Reviews


Promising Bad Moms a Disheartening Comedic Misfire

After catching her husband Mike (David Walton) having an online affair with another woman, mother of two Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) has had enough. She’s fed up with her part-time job in the corporate offices of an indie coffee company. She’s done with having to spend all day running around like a chicken with its head cut off only to return home to a family unable to do anything for themselves, waiting for her to clean up after them and make the evening dinner. She’s infuriated by PTA president Gwendolyn James’ (Christina Applegate) constant putdowns and quips, being this queen bee’s go-to lapdog a thing she’s growing increasingly frustrated and depressed by.

PHOTO: STX Entertainment

PHOTO: STX Entertainment

And so for Amy enough is enough. Not only does she kick Mike out of the house, telling him in no uncertain terms the two of them need to go to therapy or their marriage is over, she also has the temerity to challenge Gwendolyn for control of the PTA. Telling her boss Dale Kipler (Clark Duke) she’s taking a few days off whether he likes it or not, she chooses to hang out with new friends single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and harried stay-at-home mother Kiki (Kristen Bell) doing things she probably shouldn’t (day drinking, talking in movie theatres, acting like slobs at the grocery store, etc.). Most of all, while Amy wants to be there for her kids in every way that counts she just as readily wants to give them the knowledge they can fend for themselves when push comes to shove, both Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) taken aback by their mom’s sudden lack of smothering.

I did not like Bad Moms. I did like some of the components hiding within it, especially the performances of Hahn and Bell, and I also appreciated that writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover trilogy, 21 & Over) did not take the easy, melodramatic route as it pertains to Amy and Mike’s marriage. But as a movie? As a comedy? As a film that’s attempting to be ribald and uncouth while also making something of a moderate overarching statement in regards to feminism and gender equality? This thing stinks to high heaven, mostly speaking in supercilious platitudes that would probably be insulting if they weren’t so old-fashioned and boringly obvious.

I get that Lucas and Moore are attempting to craft something a fantasy, concocting a story where men are either morons, numbskulls, sexist jerks or faultless angels, while the women are do-it-all superheroes who can overcome just about anything while also baking sugarless gluten free cupcakes for the school bake sale in their spare time. Problem is, for this to work I’d actually like to see our heroine showcase her skills, I’d like to see her prove her metal while being slighted by snobbishly millennial boss Dale so that way I’ll stand up and cheer when she tells him not just to shove it but where he can stick it, too. I want to get more insight into forty-something Regina George wannabe Gwendolyn, see a few of the psychological scars she’s attempting to conceal so that way her vainglorious efforts to maintain her PTA presidency would be more interesting as well as substantially more humorous.

More? I wish the movie had the drive to base its comedy in something concrete, something vital, that Scott and More aspired to craft a scenario that could be compared to Trainwreck or Bridesmaids and not The Sweetest Thing or The Ugly Truth. While I got the feeling the pair were trying for the same sort of 1980s female-driven electricity of Ruthless People or Outrageous Fortune (heck, you could even throw in Big Business to complete the Bette Midler trifecta) the reality is that they’re too mean-spirited, too obsessed with grossing people out then they are anything else, and thus the overall vibe is too helter-skelter to be engaging for more than a handful of random seconds.

Yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit Hahn is sensational, her gift to transform any random moment into one of comedic ebullience too splendid to be dismissed. From casually seducing Amy to the dark side of parental responsibility while sitting on a barstool, to embracing her kind-hearted athletic dimwit of a son for who he is and not who she wants him to be, to ordering around her peons at a local spa with regal relish, the actress is consistently electrifying. While Carla is never more than one-dimensional, Hahn’s performance gives it all the vigor and passion it needs, and I honestly can’t imagine I’d have been able to sit through the film all the way to the end had she not been in it.

That’s a little unfair. Bell is almost her equal, the actress having a number of nice moments, not the least of which being one where Kiki finally discovers her backbone allowing her to finally put her domineering, if still well-meaning, husband in his place once and for all. Additionally, for all my problems with how Gwendolyn is scripted Applegate is still a marvelous enough a talent to give her a couple scenes that solidly tickled my funny bone, her verbal dressing down of the school’s soccer coach (a suitably silly J.J. Watt, looking like he’s having a blast sending up his on-field NFL persona) just sublime.

But Kunis is stranded with a character who is so poorly written Amy becomes more a symbol and a figurehead than she is a fully-formed human being worth investing in emotionally. She speaks in artificial clichés, even her climactic speech to a room filled with PTA parents (all of which are women, as men barely exist as far as being child-rearing caregivers are concerned save Jay Hernandez’s recently widowed single father Jessie) never becoming as rousing or as inspirational as is undeniably intended. Her journey is painfully obvious every step of the way save for how her relationship with Mike is concerned, and unlike some of the actress’ prior comedic turns (like in Ted, Date Night or even Friends with Benefits) this one is virtually dead on arrival.

I can’t help but feel like Bad Moms could have worked, that the seeds lurking in the heart of Lucas and Moore’s script aren’t nearly as rotten as I’m probably making them out to be. I just don’t think the pair had the ability or the desire to invest themselves as fully into the plights, concerns and lives of the characters that they had created, more interested in delivering Hangover-style yucks inside a female-driven scenario. It makes one wonder what a filmmaker like Nicole Holofcener, Penelope Spheeris or Lisa Cholodenko might have been able to make of it all, the answer to that question likely one we’ll sadly never know the answer to.

Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)