An overworked and underappreciated woman decides to stop trying to be a perfect mom.
Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, 2016
Young mother of two Amy (Mila Kunis) is overwhelmed by the pressure of being a working mom. Her part-time job has turned into a full-time nightmare, her school’s perfect PTA mothers look down on her, and her layabout husband Mike (David Walton) might as well not be there for all the help he provides. When Amy finds out Mike is having an online affair, she goes off the rails. With her new friends, the boozy Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and overwhelmed mother of four Kiki (Kristen Bell), she starts to break all the mom rules and have fun instead. The women party, drink, and go to the movies in the middle of the day, freeing themselves from the pressures of momdom. But when she attracts the ire of PTA queen bee Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), Amy has to woman up and confront her responsibilities, lest her children pay the price for her behaviour.
It’s a real shame that Bad Moms isn’t just a little bit better than it is. It could have made a fun, feminist comedy, but the script barely scratches the surface of the problems modern mothers face. It completely fails to acknowledge the root problems causing these mothers to feel overwhelmed with the need to be “perfect”, going for broad comedy rather than sharp satire – the film wants to be Mean Girls (the characters are similar, particularly the mean moms, and some moments are lifted right out of that superior movie), but ends up mired in PG13 Hangover territory. The fact that the film is written and directed by men might have something to do with the lack of insight into a mother’s lot. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of meaty material available for mining in a grown-up Mean Girls. There are some really deep flaws in the writing – it’s not clear why Kristen Bell is around, since her children are too young for the school; timelines are inconsistent; characters behave the plot requires of them, rather than in a manner consistent with their characterisation. There’s some worryingly abusive stuff in the relationship between Kiki and her husband, but for the most part male characters are curiously absent or weirdly unnecessary – the decision to have Amy work for a coffee start-up with a young CEO played by Clark Duke is a really weird one, when a traditional office job would be better suited to the character. It’s all very LA.
Fortunately, the cast takes the shallow script and turns it into a fun, effervescent affair that it much more than the sum of its parts. The film hits another level when Kunis, Hahn, and Bell get together, relishing in the opportunity to be funny and over the top without restraint. Kathryn Hahn’s Carla is easily the worst mother on the screen, frequently putting her son in dangerous situations, but she’s also hilarious. Kristen Bell and Jada Pinkett-Smith are the film’s MVPs, stealing their scenes with million-dollar reaction shots – Bell is so cute and funny, and Pinkett-Smith’s sycophant is on-point. Christina Applegate is perfectly detestable as Gwendolyn, and even she gets some sympathetic moments. Child prodigy Oona Laurence (previously seen in Southpaw – will win an Oscar by the age of 20) shines as the more interesting of Amy’s kids, inheriting her mother’s high-strung perfectionism and suffering for it. Mila Kunis has a harder time trying to hold the film down in the lead, and it tends to fall apart in the more dramatic moments, but that’s largely because of the thanklessness of her “perfect” role as Amy. it says something that one of the highlights of the film is the credits sequence, during which the actresses’ real mothers talk about their own “bad mom” experiences. It’s more authentic and touching than anything in the precious hour and a half. There’s a serious lack of diversity amongst the moms, but if you want to see a lot of talented women being funny, Bad Moms is worth supporting. Hopefully they’ll hire some women behind the camera for the next lady-led comedy.
Bad Moms on IMDb