Bad Moms (2016)

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are two Hollywood writers with a mixed bag of comedy success attached to their names, however, they are the two men responsible for writing, among other things, the breakout comedy hit, The Hangover.  This summer, they released Bad Moms, a comedy that became arguably the sleeper hit of the summer, following in the vein of The Hangover, Bridesmaids, and other comedies of adults trading in their responsibilities for some self-indulgent activity.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is mother of two who has a very hectic life that consists of being heavily involved in her children’s school activities as well as working full-time hours at what is supposed to be a part-time job.  To top it off, she gets very little support from her husband Mike (David Walton), whom she eventually kicks out of the house when she catches him in flagrante delicto with a woman online.  Faced with the ever increasing demands of work and being a parent, she finally reaches the end of her rope and walks out on a PTA meeting, putting her at odds with the head of the PTA, Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate).  She soon finds support in the form of two other moms, Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a single mom who lives a carefree lifestyle, and Kiki, an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children.  These three form a quick friendship and Amy starts to say enough is enough and take back control of her own life.

The story is pretty conventional, falling in line with other similar film where the main characters let loose and the villains are authority figures or people who cling too hard to their sense of power and control.  Everything involving Amy and her two kids, Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) resolves neatly.  Nearly everything involving Christina Applegate’s Gwendolyn, supported at all times by Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo behind her) is right out of Comedy Villain 101.  And as in most of the raunchy comedies, there is a love interest that is easy to objectify (in this case, it’s a widower dad played by Jesse Martinez.

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What is important though is that none of that really matters because the movie is so funny.  The plot is conventional in its genre to the audience to give the actresses the framework in which to excel.  The only thing that is unconventional is that the comedy is geared toward women and not men.  In fact, the movie does a very nice job of gender role reversal in this movie, with the essentially absentee husbands getting put in their place for their failure to step up.  And in a very funny twist, the women have mom fantasies that start out as an escapist, “quiet breakfast, alone” fantasy and then drastically spirals from there.

For whatever reason, there has been a wrongly advanced notion in some circles and in varying degrees of serious discussion that women aren’t funny.  It’s not even worthy of a discussion of how dumb this idea is.  Just last night, I was listening to a discussion of Young Frankenstein in the wake of the passing of Gene Wilder.  And I was reminded how incredibly funny Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman are in that movie.  It’s not that it dawned on me in that moment that women had always been funny; it’s more like the question popped into my head of “how did we go from performances like these 40 years ago to where some people can try to claim that women aren’t funny?”  But I digress.

The point I’m getting to is that the performances in this movies are a perfect example that to say women aren’t funny is just stupid.  Kunis is an actress who cut her teeth on That 70s Show and has gone on to good to great roles in several comedies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall in particular.  While she has some limitations overall (see Oz The Great and Powerful, actually maybe avoid seeing it), she is very funny and this film is right in her wheelhouse.  And Sarah Marshall herself, Kristen Bell, is pretty entertaining too, adding to a few very funny turns she’s had (short arcs on Parks & Rec and Party Down) since Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And what further evidence do we need when it comes to Christina Applegate’s bona fides?

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To me, though, the standout of this movie is Kathryn Hahn.  She is an actress who has had a lot of small, but steadily growing supporting roles in some of the more memorable comedies of this century (Anchorman, Step Brothers) and recently started to gain some attention from the Amazon series Transparent.  Couple with this, I can only hope this starts to lead to something of a breakout for her.  She steals much of the movie, being given the some of the raunchiest and funniest lines in the movie.  There is a scene where the three of them go to the grocery market after drinking at a bar that is a comedic tour de force for Hahn.  I’ve always found her funny, and I expected her IMDb page to be a bit more robust than it was when I looked at it.  She is a comedic talent that Hollywood has not fully utilized yet.  Someone should change that.

Bad Moms is not without its genre clichés and the story is a bit on the generic side.  A bit of polishing here or there could have elevated it even higher.  As it is, it reaches about 80% of its full potential, mostly on the genuinely hearty laughter it elicited from me in the theater.  I hope the fact that this film has already made 5x it’s budget domestically is evidence not just that women can be funny, but that they can be funny in their own films.  I am reluctant to make the comparison, but the relative failure of Ghostbusters and the relative success of Bad Moms provides a lesson that Hollywood should learn from.  Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, and Christina Applegate can carry a comedy over the $100 million threshold on a miniscule (by Hollywood standards) budget and they didn’t need to rehash a previously established intellectual property.  The same could absolutely hold true for Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and company.

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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