Bad Moms deserves credit for mixing things up in the genre, but its reliance on caricatures prevents it from being as memorable as it could have been.
Bad Moms tells the story of Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis), an overworked mother struggling with handling the numerous responsibilities of her daily life. She’s constantly in a rush and on the go, dropping her two kids off at school, being late for work, and trying to get to her children’s extracurricular activities on time. Amy is very much the glue that keeps her family together, receiving little-to-no help from her husband Mike (David Walton), and the never ending stress pushes her to her boiling point.
After an exceptionally long day in which just about everything goes wrong for her, Amy attends a PTA meeting led by the organization’s seemingly perfect president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate). Fed up with the ridiculousness of Gwendolyn’s overbearing demands, Amy decides to rebel against the system and quits, walking out of the meeting before it’s finished. Going to a bar to drink away her troubles, Amy runs into fellow moms Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), and the trio pledge to turn things around be becoming “bad moms” and eschewing their obligations. While this leads to them having more fun, it also makes them enemies of Gwendolyn, who will stop at nothing to put Amy, Kiki, and Carla back in their place.
Bad Moms is written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the team that penned comedies such as The Hangover and 21 & Over. Their latest endeavor represents the newest change-up to this particular formula by placing three domesticated mothers in the spotlight, which allows the film to play as a power fantasy for any audience members who can relate to the characters’ situations. Bad Moms deserves credit for mixing things up in the genre, but its reliance on caricatures prevents it from being as memorable as it could have been.
Arguably the greatest weakness in the film is the script, which makes the events play out like a live-action cartoon rather than something (relatively) more grounded. Each character is an exaggerated trope where one particular trait is amplified (i.e. Kiki is the sheltered stay-at-home mom; Carla is the single mom who sleeps around) at the expense of giving them depth. Of the main three, Amy is the one who receives the most development, but even there her arc comes across as forced and unearned. It takes a while for the main narrative through line to take shape, as a majority of the first act finds its “comedy” in montages of Amy, Kiki, and Carla trashing a grocery store or fawning over a Hollywood hunk while watching a movie. Admittedly, this creates an amusing “what if?” scenario, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the strongest story.
Lucas and Moore could have benefitted from injecting some subtlety into their screenplay. The two overdo it in a few places, namely establishing how miserable Amy’s life is and in the depiction of the PTA heads Gwendolyn, Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo). Just about every element of the movie is simplified to a fault, meaning several of the intended emotional payoffs (including one with Gwendolyn) fall flat. Bad Moms depends heavily on clichés, which unfortunately wastes the potential that this premise had. This is readily apparent in the performances of Applegate and Smith, serving as the “better than thou” archetypes that are the polar opposites of Amy, Kiki, and Carla. The dichotomy between the two sides has fleeting moments of entertainment, but the film lacks a certain level of self-awareness when it comes to portraying just how ideal Gwendolyn and Stacy are.
On the positive side, Kunis, Bell, and Hahn do have a good chemistry and play off of each other nicely. Their characters’ mismatched personalities make for a solid team that doesn’t quite reach the level of The Hangover‘s famed Wolfpack, but still convincingly sells the notion that they are companions helping one another through tough times. The three are fine in their roles and all get their moments, but for the most part, the script forces them to play a variant of the same joke multiple times with a diminished effect. In addition, the main male characters are thin sketches; Walton’s Mike is the stereotypical clueless husband who is oblivious to the pressures Amy is facing, while Jessie (Jay Hernandez) is the “dreamy” single dad that’s little more than the ultimate fantasy (in more ways than one) for the moms in the movie. Again, Kunis is perhaps given the most to do, and that’s a saving grace for Bad Moms. Her Amy is by far the film’s most grounded character and is a sympathetic figure for the audience to latch on to.
What frustratingly drags the movie down is that it toys with certain interesting ideas and themes, but is reluctant to explore any of them beyond the surface level. The story is based on the notion that it’s “impossible” to be a good mom in this day and age, but there isn’t a whole lot in the film to support that claim. There is something somewhat inspiring in Bad Moms‘ message of embracing your flaws, but the way it goes about illustrating it (getting drunk, blowing off work) sends problematic signals about the best methods to deal with your problems. This is what prevents the film from being rewarding or satisfying in the end, as it mostly amounts to a collection of sequences showing “nice” women behaving poorly.
On-paper, Bad Moms had the ingredients to be the next great women-led R-rated comedy, but the execution of the narrative stops it from reaching its larger ambitions. The main three of Amy, Kiki, and Carla are all funny enough, yet the whole endeavor feels one-note without much to recommend. Those who were drawn to the trailers and other marketing materials may enjoy the end result, but anyone sitting on the fence can wait for home media. Bad Moms is pretty much exactly what its title implies and how you feel about that will determine how much traction you get with the film.
Bad Moms is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 101 minutes and is rated R for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content.
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