Bad Moms (2016) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate, David Walton, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo, Jay Hernandez, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, Clark Duke
Small role: Wanda Sykes, J.J. Watt, Martha Stewart
Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Screenplay: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Review published July 29, 2016
Bad Moms is one of the more pushy raunchy comedies you'll likely come across, a film so reliant on using vulgarity as a crutch it has characters drop F-bombs at their children's schools and during PTA meetings because without them, the makers of this film feel like they won't get a laugh from audiences prone to guffaw just because they heard harsh language.
Mila Kunis (Jupiter Ascending, Third Person) plays 32-year old wife and mother of two, Amy, whose already stale marriage in the Chicago suburbs (filmed in New Orleans) hits an impasse when she catches her hubby having an online affair. Her best friends, spitfire sexpot single-mom Carla (Hahn, The Do-Over) and mousy housewife Kiki (Bell, Veronica Mars), form a pact to be "bad moms" as a means of rebellion against having to put up with bratty, unappreciative kids and husbands that take them for granted for the last several years. However, when the far-too-influential busybody PTA president, Gwendolyn (Applegate, Vacation), begins to make life difficult for them and their middle-school aged kids, Amy decides to run against her for control of the organization on a platform of empowering mothers to do not have to always have to be so perfect.
The direction and screenplay is by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Change-Up, Rebound), whose claim to fame comes from writing the screenplay for the first Hangover film. Their film tries to get the female viewers on board early through pandering to them, showing mothers as people who can do no wrong in life, and who get persistently unappreciated by their spouses and kids, setting up an environment in which the ladies will finally snap and cut loose by being just as selfish as the single, childless people with all of the freedom in the world. Perhaps because this is a film written and directed by men, cutting loose for these moms does not mean acting like they did when they were young and single, but rather a frat boy fantasy involving speeding in muscle cars, downing bottles of vodka and Jell-O shots, shrugging off any responsibilities, flipping their condescending boss the bird, throw wild and hedonistic parties, and trying to get laid with easy hookups at the local bar.
The casting choices are also a liability, with Kunis laboring to look even slightly domestic or even just lived-in as a character with a long history with a one-dimensionally self-centered husband and two precocious kids that look like they were freshly pulled from the Movie-Kid rack at the film studio prop store. Kristen Bell fares just as poorly as the repressed stay-at-home mom who struggles to find her voice in her marriage, trying to drum up laughs in a bra-shaming sequence that is almost identical to the one she was involved in just in the last year in her role in the Melissa McCarthy vehicle, The Boss -- that it's Kunis's character, the most fashionable of the three moms (the one with perfect hair, make-up and 5-inch designer heels) who wears doesn't know her bra isn't sexy only speaks to the film's laboring to force comedy without build-up. The rest are average at best, save the always reliable Kathryn Hahn, who is perhaps the film's sole actor delivering more than the role requires.
Most of the scenes of debauchery or crassness feel forced into the movie, as we can see the numbers behind the colors as the filmmakers concoct their paint-by-numbers strategy to deliver exactly what's expected from this kind of formula film. It does stumble into occasional moments of original dirty humor, such as when the ladies describe their approach to sex with an uncircumcised man, but not enough to overcome the tired and nearly formless ideas during the rest of the storyline (snotty kids who whack their moms in the belly with toy bats, and a family dog that has vertigo sufficient enough to require wearing a bicycle helmet are indicative of the level of humor you should expect).
Bad Moms will likely find an audience who think that swearing is amusing, especially when accompanied by slow-motion montages of unadulterated partying. You've probably seen your share of these before, and with Lucas and Moore not differentiating much between male and female liberation, it becomes another retread in the subgenre rather than one that upends or subverts age-old sexist attitudes. It's a wish-fulfillment fantasy meant to draw single moms and frustrated wives to the theater, but they deserve a more incisive movie about redefining gender roles than the two male writer-directors have the ability or life experience to speak toward. It's watchable, but unremarkable, and, though it isn't out-and-out detestable, it's a waste of a good high-concept premise through depth-less, low-aiming contrivances. I guess moms will just continue to be underappreciated, even by films meant to champion them.
©2016 Vince Leo