After how much I enjoyed Ghostbusters, I should have known that it was too much to hope for another great female ensemble film this summer. Bad Moms was clearly designed to provide an outlet for the pent-up frustrations of mothers nationwide. Instead, it offers a weak plot, poorly developed characters, and tone-deaf jokes.
In Bad Moms, Amy (Mila Kunis) discovers that her husband has been having an affair. In shock, she stops doing all the Super Mom duties her family had become used to: cooking perfect meals, doing all the housework, being extra involved at school, and even doing her son’s projects. As she plays hookie from her normal life, she becomes close friends with Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a single mom who is anything but Super Mom, and Kiki (Kristen Bell), a mother of four young children who gets no help from her husband at home. She also comes into conflict with Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), the president of the PTA. As Amy challenges the impossible standards for modern moms, Gwendolyn goes after Amy’s daughter in an attempt to keep her in check.
Although the film’s humor centers upon domestic dramas and women having fun with each other, the central conflict of the film, rather than focusing on Amy’s inevitable divorce, revolves around women being awful to each other. In this way, the plot undercuts the mood the film tries to create. It is essentially Mean Girls, but not nearly as funny. Compounding this problem, the antagonists in the film are poorly developed stock characters. Christina Applegate’s Gwendolyn is the standard affluent, hyper-controlling, preppy PTA President. Her “yes-women” have one personality trait each. Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) is the token black character whose only purpose is to affirm everything Gwendolyn says. In contrast, Vicky (Annie Mumolo) is nothing put clueless, even when this cluelessness is nothing but daring not to take Gwendolyn’s opinions as Gospel.
The dynamic between the three protagonists is more engaging, but still has significant problems. Although I think Kathryn Hahn is hilarious, her character’s portrayal of a single mother draws heavily from stereotypes in a way that is neither creative nor in tune with the film’s message about motherhood and expectations. In contrast, as a character, Kiki is a waste of Kristen Bell’s talent. Although her odd remarks were often funny, her character’s submissiveness and her husband’s attitude had me thinking that at some point in the film, he was going to hit her. Although I later realized that the film was working toward the liberation of Kiki, the jokes did not work to the extent that I thought she was abused for about a third of the movie.
Bad Moms is at its funniest and most genuine when it functions as a sort of fever dream for restless mothers, such as during the rage Amy throws to announce her candidacy for PTA President. My favorite part of the entire movie comes when Amy refuses to do her son, Dylan’s (Emjay Anthony) homework, and explains to him that if she does not start making him do things for himself, he will turn into just another entitled white man and she does not want him to be a jerk. In contrast, the tender moments between Amy and her anxious daughter Jane (Oona Laurence) were some of the only times the movie had emotional range. Meanwhile, the budding romance between Amy and Jesssie Harkness (Jay Hernandez) capitalizes on their chemistry and creates some decent comedy.
You could argue that I am simply not in the target demographic for Bad Moms, as I am not a mother myself. Not having kids, however, does not blind me to the poor plotting, weak characters, and cliched humor. I rate this film 2/5 stars.
Bad Moms was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. It runs 100 minutes and is rated R for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content.
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