With all the Bad Santas and Dirty Grandpas out there, a movie like Bad Moms is conceptually overdue. While this wish-fulfillment fantasy for suburban matrons works more often than it doesn’t, it lacks the satirical bite I was hoping for. Still, it’s a fun and subversive film that even non-moms will enjoy.
Yes, this is another entry in the gender-transposed revisionist adult comedy movement, but Bad Moms does it better than most. (It should be noted that I’m thrilled to see this tendency to feature women in mature comedic roles gaining traction as more than a mere novelty — which I’d feared after the success of Bridesmaids — but there’s more to my affinity for Bad Moms than respect for the cultural shift it embodies.) Thankfully absent are the bloody tampon gross-out gags of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, replaced instead by a more relatable — and, for my money, far funnier — brand of humor.
Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the duo who penned the Hangover trilogy (at least let’s hope they’ve stopped at a trilogy), Bad Moms is far from a perfect script, but it certainly has its moments. Predominantly avoiding the orgiastic ribaldry of its predecessors, Bad Moms turns away from The Hangover’s anarchistic tendencies to focus on more human, if equally ludicrous, examples of characters embracing their respective ids. These moms don’t cut loose in Las Vegas, but in the aisles of their local supermarket. If there’s nothing particularly original about the premise (a hard-working mom pushed beyond her breaking point by an overzealous PTA president, an ineffectual hipster boss and her oafish husband’s internet infidelity), the execution redeems what could’ve been a forgettable midsummer raunch-com. While formulaic cliches abound, Bad Moms delivers a comedy greater than the sum of its parts.
The cast is the real selling point here, and their ability to elevate substandard material borders on the miraculous. Mila Kunis ably embodies her straight-woman role, grounding the proceedings while allowing her supporting cast to carry much of the movie’s comedic momentum. Sure, her character strains credulity by looking better on her worst day than most people do on their best, and her successes within the story feel almost universally unearned. But let us not forget that this is wish-fulfillment territory and that most of the principals from the Hangover films would’ve died many times over as a result of their exploits, so these faults are not deal-breakers under the circumstances. It’s Kunis’ willingness to let her supporting cast take center stage that grants the film its most inspired moments. For this, audiences owe her a great debt of gratitude, as those ancillary actors and actresses deservedly steal the show. Kristen Bell plays a repressed housewife with such bizarre glee that it’s almost entertaining enough to make me forget she misguidedly married Dax Shepard. I defy anyone to erase from their minds a scene in which, clad in a pink hoodie, she’s used as a demonstrational aid to explain the mechanics of an uncircumcised penis to Kunis. I will also go on record right now to say that Christina Applegate’s villainous turn as a PTA demagogue is a career highlight for an accomplished, if often overlooked, comedic actress. But it’s Kathryn Hahn who walks away with every scene she’s in as an uninhibited (and unhinged) single mom whose inspired ad-libs account for the majority of the film’s funniest moments. It’s truly unfortunate that Jada Pinkett Smith and The Wire‘s Wendell Pierce are both criminally underused. But, with the embarrassment of riches this cast’s performances represent, the oversight can almost be forgiven.
Notable performances aside, Bad Moms has a lot to recommend it to prospective audiences of all genders. Though it occasionally bogs down in the second act, pacing is solid on the whole. The jokes that land do so resoundingly, and those that don’t are brushed aside with little pause. Story turns are often arbitrary, but that’s to be expected of a largely diversionary comedy. (Attaining unqualified accolades as cinematic high-art was never the intended purpose of this particular picture.) Bad Moms has a sympathetic heart that narrowly avoids teetering over the precipice of sentiment into the abyss of saccharinity. Even a series of interviews with the stars and their mothers highlights the nobility of maternity without indulging in mawkishness. Who knew Christina Applegate’s mom loved Al Pacino so much that she took her underage daughter to see William Friedkin’s Cruising while utterly unaware of that film’s decidedly adult premise? If you’re remotely interested in the prospect of Bad Moms, you’ll likely find the endeavor worth your time. You should see it with your mom. Or at least call her. She misses you. Rated R for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content.
Now playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, UA Beaucatcher, Regal Biltmore Grande.