'Bad Moms' Embraces the Stereotypes It so Desperately Wants to Subvert
The story is uneven, the laughs are plentiful, but it's the politics that make this movie a tad... questionable.
Bad MomsDirector: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Christina Applegate
Studio: STX Entertainment
US date: 2016-07-29 (General release)
UK date: 2016-07-29 (General release)
"My mother's a saint."
"Don't you dare dis my momma."
"Let keep mothers out of this."
Even the biggest, beefiest dude or most put together lady crumbles into a pile of juvenilia whenever their good old life giver is referenced. Placed upon a pedestal and worshiped beyond the occasional (or frequent) dysfunction, most of us foster a belief that mothers never do anything wrong, always have the answers, and can have it all if properly balancing their time between work, school, volunteering, housekeeping, cooking, personal intimacy with the partner of their choice, and their hobbies and free time. They are strong. They are invincible. They are woman -- right, Helen Reddy?
Now few would ever fathom their moms getting wasted, chasing guys, and giving enemies the middle finger. A cursing matron is considered (by some) to be so uncommon that the rare "F" or other bomb she tosses becomes a shock to the system. Now, imagine if your beloved mater was actually a disgruntled basket case, incapable of relaxing and desperate to get out from under the strains of raising you, any siblings you may have, and the biggest baby in the house: Dad. That's the underlying theme for the raw raunchiness of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's Hangover rip-off Bad Moms. It's okay about the copycatting -- those guys wrote that film as well -- but without a real plot to get behind, this often hilarious cartoon loses its way.
You see, what we are really dealing with is a film which finds the struggles of everyday existence (making ends meet, keeping your sanity, acting as either a helicopter or lawnmower parent) the jumping off point for foul language, crude behavior, and lewd and lascivious acts. It's all part of the "girls can be gross, too" movie movement which got its start with such films as Bridesmaids and Trainwreck. Bad Moms is not on par with those award winners, but thanks to its expert cast, and the frequently pointed insights into modern life, there's more here to like than hate.
Our main character is Amy (Mila Kunis) a supposed Supermom who can't seem to get her morose, entitled children and her obtuse husband to help out. She works part time for a hipster coffee company, but her boss is so demanding she's constantly on call. She finally meets someone sadder than her in the harried Kiki (Kristen Bell) and they bond over their individual issues. When they come into the sphere of influence of one Carla (Kathryn Hahn) the personification of the title, they go crazy and cut loose, a lot. This makes their main nemesis, a goody-goody named Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) who just so happens to be head of the PTA, all the more eager to put them in their place. Hijinx, and a little heart, ensue.
There's a weird premise at the core of Bad Moms, which both negates and reinforces that hoary old stereotype that women are "the weaker sex". (It's 2016, guys, give it up, already.) At the same time, we wouldn't be laughing like we do if the traditional social sentiment was that the ladies are just as dirty, disgusting, and debauched as the guys they end up with. To repeat: men are pigs and women are precious. In order to find some of this funny, you have to fall into that false directive. You have to watch Mila Kunis or Kristen Bell cutting loose like Bradley Cooper and Zack Galifianakis in that trilogy of tawdry behavior and think "now there's something you don't normally expect or see."
It's a shame. Women are people, too. They have the same wants, needs, and means of expressing same, we've just created an outdated directive which states that they are meek and milquetoast while dudes can drag their genitals through anything they want and that's just "boys being boys". This, in turn, makes Bad Moms feel a bit disingenuous. As we said before, by playing against type, it's actually embracing it in a way. It's telling the character played by Christina Applegate that your Stepford-Wife-in-training personality might be over the top, but it's more in line with how we look at being an adult than getting high and vomiting on people in a club.
All politics aside, Bad Moms does find a fount of funny stuff, getting us giddy on the notion of regular, button down citizens expressing a long suppressed desire for personal liberty and gender freedom. All three actresses excel, but it is Hahn who is the MVP here. She can embrace even the most ludicrous, cartoon situation Lucas and Moore give her and find the dignity and delight within it. She's also the most "out there" of the moms, more than happy to dis her jock son and go on the predatory prowl for any available hunk in sight. Kunis gets the best story arc, since we get to see her transform from conservative to crazy (and back a bit). Bell is a brilliant sidekick.
But it does speak volumes that a film in 2016 can trade on the notion of females as fragile for its frat boy inspired humor. They may have come a long way, but women are still seen as the calm within the social maelstrom. Bad Moms wants to change that. All it eventually does is confirm the norm, albeit with the added bonus of a hilarious, if uneven, entertainment.