BAD MOMS: Not Just A Female-Led Seth Rogen Movie

Bad Moms threatens to turn into a women-centric Seth Rogen movie, and it could easily have fallen off that particular cliff. Fortunately the movie and the audience are spared that fate, largely because the moms aren’t really that bad, and that’s the point of the movie.

These women are overstressed, overworked and under-appreciated, but they’re trying. The fathers, by contrast, are whining ingrates if they’re around at all (and there aren’t that many male characters in the movie). Bad Dads would have been a better, if less marketable title. But this isn’t really about bad moms as it is about good moms gone rogue.

Given the growing awareness of the female movie audience, Bad Moms or something like it was virtually inevitable. But was it inevitable that it be written and directed by men? Bad Moms is the brainchild of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, writers of the well-known feminist tract The Hangover. Oddly, the masters of frat boy humor have actually done a pretty convincing job of making a comedy of feminist outrage.

Mila Kunis stars as Amy, who is wearing herself to a frazzle trying to keep her home running with no noticeable help from her under-employed husband Mike (David Walton). As played by Walton, best known for the TV shows New Girl, About a Boy and Bent, Mike is an entitled, spoiled brat, who’s teaching the couple’s children Jane (Southpaw’s Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) by example how to behave the same way.

Amy appears to be the principal breadwinner, working for a boutique coffee company where she’s almost literally the only grown-up, and completely unappreciated by her sawdust-headed boss Dale (Hot Tub Time Machine’s Clark Duke).

No one feels badly about male stereotypes

Considering the shabby treatment women have often suffered at the hands of Hollywood movies, complaining about the two-dimensional characterizations of men in the movie is unlikely to elicit sympathy. No one feels badly about male stereotypes. The male characters here are all so unsympathetic as to give the impression the movie’s male writers are apologizing for their gender.

BAD MOMS: Not Just A High-Estrogen Seth Rogen Movie
source: STX Entertainment

The sole exception is Jay Hernandez as a hunky, widowed dad, who all the moms, married and not, are lusting after. Hernandez’s character is made from the same cardboard as the other men in the movie, he’s just a two-dimensional good guy. We know this because he didn’t leave his wife or get thrown out, she died.

It would in some ways serve them right if it turned he’d murdered his wife, but such is not the case. He has a pleasant, self-deprecating sense of humor and performs oral sex without being asked. Prince Charming, clearly, is alive and well if you know where to look.

The audience, of course, is predisposed to root for Amy, and Kunis clearly understanding that underneath the movie’s broad and often vulgar humor there’s a message struggling to float to the surface, she takes Amy seriously. Amy has it together though, compared to Kiki, a fellow mom who fantasizes about being in an accident just to get a two week vacation in a hospital.

As Kiki, Kristen Bell is a straight-from-central casting girl, whose Olympian level self-esteem issues aren’t helped by the fact that she’s bullied by a husband who probably never misses the Omega House alumni reception at Faber College Homecoming Weekend.

Kathryn Hahn is a force of nature

It’s Kathryn Hahn, though, who steals the movie, and in fact, this is a full-throttle, take-no-prisoners hijacking. Hahn, as veteran single mom Carla, is a force of nature. Unlike Amy or Kiki, Carla really is a pretty bad mom, who spends as little time and effort nurturing her dumb jock son as possible. Under Carla’s influence, the girls begin acting like characters out of a Seth Rogen movie.

They drink, they cut loose, they raise hell, they slack off. They also apparently do a fair amount of driving while intoxicated, which the movie glosses over. Amy brings – wait for it – store bought doughnut holes to an official PTA bake sale.

Christina Applegate: a Trumpian villain

This sort of thing is just not countenanced by the school’s crazy eyed and acid-tongued PTA president Gwendolyn, played with all the warmth and cuddly demeanor of Vladimir Putin by Christina Applegate. Applegate is a monument to passive-aggressiveness here, with a Trumpian ego.

BAD MOMS: Not Just A High-Estrogen Seth Rogen Movie
source: STX Entertainment

Had the filmmakers seen the fog machine prior to the movie’s release, they certainly would have incorporated it into Gwendolyn’s introduction at a PTA meeting. But the question remains as to on what planet the PTA has this much power. The movie presents a PTA that seems to have final word over not only hiring and firing, but curriculum and even length of the school day.

This appears to be a public school and presumably the teachers are unionized and ultimately tenured. Professionals in this position wouldn’t be scared of anything short of invading Mongolian hordes, yet they shake at Gwendolyn’s approach as though she were Darth Vader.

That’s part of the joke, as much as the fact that Gwendolyn is dangled in front of the movie’s heroines as the epitome of what they’re supposed to be aspiring to. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique doesn’t appear to have had much impact on this fictional landscape.

Like 2011’s insipid adaptation of I Don’t Know How She Does It, we’re trading in a wholly manufactured tension between stay-at-home moms and working moms. It’s doubtful that in the current economy too many people can actually afford to engage in this critical social dialogue. They’re too busy working for a living.

To give them credit, Lucas and Moore get this. The stay-at-home moms in the movie are only stay-at-home moms because they’re married to millionaires, who spend most of their time at the gym toning their major career assets.

Not a true shock comedy

No question there are shock comedy elements to Bad Moms, and Lucas and Moore have plenty of shock comedy flicks on their combined resumés. The duo not only wrote The Hangover and 2011’s The Change-Up. But unlike a true shock comedy, in which the main characters would be genuinely disreputable, and be generally unchanged at the end of the movie, these moms aren’t bad and the characters do grow.

Make no mistake – the movie earns its R rating. There’s language, there’s nudity, there’s sexual situations and references, there’s alcohol and drug use. For whatever reason, the movie does not feature an obligatory dick shot.

But this is what differentiates Bad Moms from last winter’s Sisters, which turned pretty much in a party movie in the mold of say, Project X. Although this is pretty much what the trailers promise (or threaten, depending on your point of view), Bad Moms really does deal with the pressures of parenting, and to a lesser degree, being a kid in the modern world.

Jane really does believe that if she gets cut from the soccer team she stands no chance of getting into an Ivy League school, and her future goes downhill from there.

No more counseling scenes, EVER!

There are also moments where the movie, perhaps ill-advisedly, tries to wring more pathos out of the story than the material will bear. In real life, of course, divorce always come with tears, but shoehorning that type of verisimilitude into a broad comedy is always going to be awkward. Particularly so in a movie as sloppily constructed as this one.

The audience has had Mike pegged as a dog from the get-go and they won’t grieve the failed marriage no matter what. It should also be noted that in the twenty-first century, counseling scenes are a cliché, period. They’re talky, stagey and there’s usually about three places you can put the camera, none of them interesting. Even the redoubtable Wanda Sykes can’t save this one.

BAD MOMS: Not Just A High-Estrogen Seth Rogen Movie
source: STX Entertainment

Lucas and Moore don’t so much direct as edit and curate music. The popular songs in the soundtrack cue the audience’s reaction as definitively and obviously as a laugh track. Upbeat, eighties pop standards combined with slow motion equal our heroines cutting loose. Plink-plunk piano solos or acoustic guitar chords tell us that we are having a serious or introspective moment.

The tech credits are par throughout. To their credit, Lucas and Moore found an actual middle class suburban neighborhood to set much of the action in. The homes are modest are close together. It might be noted, that somewhat like the Tardis, the interiors are too big to be set in those modest, middle class houses, but whatever.

Conclusion

Sloppily constructed but undeniably funny, Bad Moms does effectively find the humor in situations that are going to ring true to a large audience. A hipper, more cynical ending might have made it smarter, but no more of a crowd-pleaser.

A rowdy call to sisterhood, Bad Moms delivers the message by delivering the laughs.

Is Bad Moms more than just a female-centric shock comedy? Or does it actually have something to say about modern parenting?

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