Bad Moms (dir. Jon Lucas & Scott Moore)

Posted: August 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

The key to understanding “Bad Moms” comes from two of its minor, male characters. The main character, Amy (Mila Kunis) has a husband named Mike (David Walton). Mike is a lazy, stupid man who takes his wife for granted and is cheating on her via an online affair. He’s not a hugely bad person (he loves his kids), but he’s an asshole who, in couples therapy, can only complain that his wife doesn’t give him blowjobs anymore. It is hard to understand why the character of Amy, who looks like Mila Kunis, would ever be with this guy for as long as she has. Here’s the thing: pretend this was a Judd Apatow comedy. Mike would be the main character, wouldn’t he? A shlubbish manchild who lands a woman who is way too good for him and way out of his league? Hell, Seth Rogen has made a career out of playing this guy, albeit a more sympathetic version than the one in this film. “Bad Moms” is, essentially, telling its audience that these “heroes” from the male-centered raunchy rom-coms are A) a fantasy, and B) would be insufferable in real life if they existed.

The other character that helps to understand “Bad Moms” is Jessie (Jay Hernandez). Jessie is a super hot single dad (his wife died, so no chance he was divorced for being an asshole) who is super attracted to the main character despite little interaction (though, again, she does look like Mila Kunis), and who actually asks permission if he can go down on her again following a sexual romp. This guy is a bland, female fantasy of the perfect guy injected into the film solely to give Amy a love interest and to fulfill the fantasies of the female audience members. I have no problem with this. Why? Because at least 1/3rd of all female characters in male-aimed movies of this type fit this mold. You think supermodels would fall head over heels in love and lust with Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, or Michael Cera if they were just the average Joes they play in films? Of course not! On screen these actors have dated or hooked up with everyone from Emma Stone to Mary Elizabeth Winstead and other women way out of their league on a purely physical level (and, judging how much of assholes the characters they play can be sometimes…I’m looking at you Scott Pilgrim…a personality level too). We somehow accept this ridiculous male fantasy as the norm in films (not to mention all the TV sitcoms where shlubby men have wives too good for them), and by showing a male character in the same light that we normally see these female characters in, it causes a realization to dawn on the audience. It’s what the “Ghostbusters” reboot tried to do with the Chris Helmsworth character and failed miserably because it overplayed its hand, and because the female receptionist in the original film wasn’t the bimbo Helmsworth’s character was.

“Bad Moms” is basically a low-key feminist film that flips the genders on what would be a normal by-the-numbers raunchy comedy. It would be easy to imagine “Bad Dads” where single dads decide to shirk responsibility and embrace their inner bro in a movie. That movie would be horrible, BTW. “Bad Moms” works because it plays off of what society says a mother should be like, and how that works in opposition to what a real life woman needs beyond playing that role. This film isn’t ballsy enough to make the argument I would, that having children is a horrible decision and no one should procreate if they want a chance of true happiness, but it starts to come close to that in the beginning before copping out.  As it is, it’s hard to see the moms’ misery in the film and, despite their pleas that they love their kids, not think they would be infinitely happier if they hadn’t had the kids in the first place.

So the film revolves around Amy. She works for what we’re told is a coffee co-op but doesn’t exactly seem to be run like a co-op. She is stressed to the gills having to shuttle her two children to school and various activities while also doing housework and getting the family afloat. After a particularly bad day, and the revelation of her husband’s online infidelity, she decides at a public PTA meeting to stop trying so hard, let her kids be a bit more self-reliant, and have some me-time to drink it up, party, and pursue her own happiness. The film plays it safe by not making her a bad mom, exactly (she doesn’t abuse or neglect her kids), but it makes her a tad bit more of an absentee mother.  On this journey, she makes friends with two other moms whose kids go to school with hers.  There’s Kiki (Kristen Bell) who has many kids and a dictatorial husband. The film seems to imply she’s stuck in some sort of religious, Quiverfull-like marriage, but it doesn’t get explicit with it, sadly. Kiki is pretty shy and reserved, and doesn’t stand up for herself against her husband. She’s the obligatory goody-goody of the team. The other mother is Carla, played by Kathryn Hahn. Carla is an even more extreme version of the kind-of crappy mother Hahn played in “The Visit”. Carla is single, crude, and sexually aggressive to the extreme. She hits on other dads, and pretty much all men, and a few ladies as well. She’s the female version of the man-whore whom beds tons of women in the male raunchy comedies. Hahn steals this film by getting most of its biggest laughs. A scene where she demonstrates on Kiki’s hoodie how to deal with an uncircumcised penis is a bit of prop comedy that probably garners the film’s largest laugh.

Our three moms spend time hanging out, drinking, partying, going out to look for men, and discussing the difficulties of raising kids, some of whom they can’t relate to as people. They feel like genuine disparate women forming a friendship, even if some of their antics (the supermarket scene) feel less than real.  It helps that they are given an enemy to rally against. That would be Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) a rich mother who runs the PTA and is the kind of prissy, backstabbing Nazi mom emulating some new idea of perfection that we all picture Gwyneth Paltrow to be. The film never actually gives us any scenes with her kids, which is kind of interesting and I’m not sure if that’s on purpose or if there was just no room for them. In any case, she makes for a decent antagonist, representing the pressure society puts on mothers to be perfect.

As someone who is both male and will never have kids (thank you, vasectomy) I can’t say this film will hit me as well as it will its target audience, which is young-ish mothers who haven’t lost their sense of humor. What I can say is that it made me laugh a decent number of times and I ultimately enjoyed myself, as well as appreciated the subtle gender messaging going on by swapping the genders of traditional roles in this genre and letting the film play out without overt commentary on it.  The early moments of the film are perhaps edited in a way that undercuts laughs that the film could have gotten early on (many of the jokes in the first 15 minutes of the film are less successful than they could have been due to the pace of scenes being much too fast) but the film eventually settles into a nice rhythm.

“Bad Moms” isn’t a terribly great or original comedy, but it’s just funny enough to be worth the viewing. B

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