Editor’s Notes: Bad Moms opens in wide theatrical release today, July 29th.
Most surprising about Bad Moms is not its sneaky feminist verve – although, to be frank, that’s something of a surprise as well, since a “Moms Behaving Badly” premise is not, on its own, a stamp of feminism. No, most surprising is that this woman-dominant, subversive tempest of empowerment and transgression was written and directed by two guys. Sure, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have proven they have comedic writing chops, having created and written The Hangover. But of course, that franchise’s common identifier – outside of being inventive and funny – was an overtly bro-centered outlook with varying shades of woman-hating. Paul Feig, they are not. So it isn’t difficult to get worried about the kind of outrageous female comedy these guys would produce.
Bad Moms, however, is aggressively pro-woman – it doesn’t even slip any cheap shots into the margins, which would be easy even for a male writer with the best intentions.
Bad Moms, however, is aggressively pro-woman – it doesn’t even slip any cheap shots into the margins, which would be easy even for a male writer with the best intentions. That may be due to the preponderance of brilliant women in this cast, starting with the central trio of Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell, and carrying on to Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Annie Mumulo, and beyond. The key to tailoring your comedy to a female point of view is, as ever, listening to the female point of view, and it’s easy to do that when you have so many talented women around to keep you in check. Who knows, maybe Lucas and Moore have been feminist trailblazers all this time…but I’d be willing to bet these women deserve a lot of credit for shaping Bad Moms. And that’s okay – it takes a village, after all.
The concept is simple – moms are stretched too thin, completely disrespected at work and at home, and after living up to such an impossible standard for so long, they snap . . .
The concept is simple – moms are stretched too thin, completely disrespected at work and at home, and after living up to such an impossible standard for so long, they snap and go on an extended bender of rule-breaking indulgence. It functions so well as a movie idea because it’s such a complete fantasy – this wouldn’t and couldn’t ever actually happen in the real world, lest these women be exposed, indicted, and vilified as demonic forces working against the rest of humanity. Because we live in that great contradiction, a patriarchal world that hinges on the work of women to keep it running smoothly. Who runs the world? Men. Who keeps the world running? Women. If Bad Moms understands any one concept, it’s that one. Using that as the jump-off point for its no-holds-barred comedy is the key to its ultimate success.
Kunis is Amy, a young mother whose kids are paranoid overachievers, whose husband is an unappreciative schlub, and whose boss relies on her to run the company without any credit or additional compensation. All of that would be enough for any woman to want to start a rebellion, but funnily enough, it’s the rigorous pressures enforced by the school’s nastily prim PTA president (Applegate) that triggers Amy’s awakening, proving once and for all that women hating women is one of society’s legit cancers. Joining Amy in her insubordinate cause are Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a hard-living single mom who gave up formality long ago, and Kiki (Kristen Bell), a buttoned-up stay-at-home mom who anxious to liberate herself from her husband’s stringent expectations. These “Bad Moms” engaging in boozing, partying, ignoring responsibilities – actions that would be neither a stretch nor a questionable offense for a group of men. It’s the gender switch that makes it something of a shock. That says way more about audience expectations than the perspective of this screenplay, but Lucas and Moore are happy to exploit the viewer’s ingrained biases for laughs.
Our trio of heroines isn’t merely an insular group of transgressors – they form a broadening faction of similarly fed-up mothers that stands against the impossible-to-maintain status quo of Applegate’s PTA troupe. So yes, there is still a dastardly female villain, but of course there would be, since the film’s universe is almost entirely female-centric. Returning momentarily to the Feig comparison, there hasn’t been a comedy to more pointedly disregard the male gaze since Feig’s Spy. Bad Moms isn’t so explicit as to change the formal template and balance of gender power the way Feig did (and does), but the men are still largely ineffectual here, the oafs whose power is solely dependent on women’s willingness to allow it.
Lest this movie review persist as only a dissection of gender in a patriarchal society, I should mention that Bad Moms is consistently and surprisingly hilarious, deriving laughs both broad and sly from the execution of this premise, much of that due to the brilliance of this cast. If the movie isn’t perfect – and it’s not – that’s because it needs a director who understands how to shoot and edit comedy. Lucas and Moore understand the written rhythms but not the visual ones, which means some gags land with an awkward thud (their tendency to oversaturate the soundtrack with Top-40 pop is also something of a distraction). But this movie’s success is all about those Bad Moms – these very funny women are given free rein to let their freak flags fly, and they wave them with abandon.
Not perfect, but consistently and surprisingly hilarious. These very funny women are given free rein to let their freak flags fly, and they wave them with abandon.