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Review: Bad Moms (2016)

Bad Moms (2016)

Directed by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

Premise: A trio of suburban mothers (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn) decide to quit striving for perfection and have fun. They come into conflict with the overbearing president of the PTA (Christina Applegate).

What Works: At some level, Bad Moms is Mean Girls with grown women. Like that picture, Bad Moms is primarily set in a school, focuses on a female cast, and pits different social cliques against one other. And like Mean Girls, the villains of Bad Moms are a group of well-bred but mean spirited women who control the social life of the school. Bad Moms appeals in some of the same ways as Mean Girls. The 2004 picture was so successful because it authentically tapped into the high school experience and Bad Moms is able to do the same with contemporary parenting. This isn’t really a movie about children so much as it is a movie about the relationships between mothers and the anxious, competitive, and overstuffed lives that so many parents lead. In that respect, the film succeeds, especially in its first half. Bad Moms focuses on an overwhelmed and underappreciated mother, played by Mila Kunis, who attempts to be the perfect parent. This has made her miserable and she eventually snaps and abandons her responsibilities. Bad Moms is very funny but it will resonate the most with parents of young children. There are a number of scenarios that will elicit a laugh of recognition from its target audience. Bad Moms is delightfully crass. Most of the best jokes in the movie come from Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn. Bell plays a meek woman with an entire brood of kids who is trapped in a patriarchal marriage. She does the dutiful wife act well and Bell’s performance is very funny in a way that’s frequently understated. Kathryn Hahn is just the opposite as a sexual and aggressive single mom. Hahn is loud and lewd and she has quite a few of the funniest lines in the movie. Bad Moms also has two notable performances by child actors Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony. Laurence is especially good (in part because she is given more interesting things to do) as a precocious post-millennial.

What Doesn’t: As good as most of the cast is in Bad Moms, the film would have benefitted from a stronger actor in the central role. Mila Kunis leads the film and while she’s competent in the role Kunis does not carry the weariness of motherhood in her physical performance and she never has the look of someone at the end of her rope. The first half of Bad Moms is stronger than the second half. After establishing the oppressive busyness of contemporary suburban motherhood and finding comedy in the women’s reaction against it, Bad Moms steps away from doing something more subversive. The mothers get drunk at night and treat themselves to breakfast in the morning but the film is never more creative than that. The premise of Bad Moms had the potential to do something far more interesting like suggesting that some women love but do not particularly like their children (especially in the teenage years) or exposing the unpopular reality that parenthood itself is unpleasant. Instead Bad Moms alternates drunken escapades with sentimental moments of these women blubbering over their offspring. The second half of the picture follows a standard high school comedy template complete with a house party and a big speech before the class. The only difference between Bad Moms and so many other high school films is that the main characters of this movie are adults. But for all intents and purposes they behave like children and the possibilities of that joke aren’t realized. The movie doesn’t stick to its premise and the ending of the film backtracks and wraps things up too nicely and too neatly.   

Bottom Line: Bad Moms is a satisfying comedy. Even at their most outrageous, the filmmakers stay within the margins of safety and whatever was subversive about the movie’s premise is undone in the conclusion. But Bad Moms is quite funny and so as a comedy it succeeds.

Episode: #607 (August 14, 2016)