Saturday, October 8, 2016

Film Review: Bad Moms

Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable

Somewhere inside of Bad Moms is a good movie.

Unfortunately, that movie is obscured by too much vulgarity, shallow characters, and insipid themes.

The movie focuses on Amy (Mila Kunis), an overworked and underappreciated mom who hustles her kids (Emjay Anthony and Oona Laurence) everywhere while working too many hours for her millennial boss (Clark Duke) without the help from her lazy husband (David Walton).  On top of this she is made to feel inferior by the domineering PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate).  Finally after a particularly trying day, she snaps and declares to a room full of moms that she gives up and embraces being a bad mom.  She is joined in this liberation from perfection by stay at home mom Kiki (Kristen Bell) and already bad single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn).

In its defense, there is a lot that the movie does well.  First of all, the lead actresses are fantastically funny.  Unlike the forced girl power camaraderie from this Summer's Ghostbusters, the chemistry between Kunis, Bell, and Hahn is real.  They all bring something different to the table but they all share a strong screen presence and charisma.  They are helped by some genuinely witty lines from writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore that send up the modern pressures to be a perfect mom and to shield your kids from every possible risk and harm.

But unfortunately, Lucas and Moore do not have enough confidence in their own joke-writing ability and instead rely on a lot of shock-comedy instead.  For the most part, I do not mind vulgarity in film.  But this film decides lean so heavily in area of outrageous adult behavior that it is off putting.  Like this summer's Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Bad Moms uses prolonged full frontal nudity to try and drum up laughs.  The result is less funny and more extremely uncomfortable.  The problem always with shock comedy is that it does not linger in the affections of the mind the way wit and simple silliness do.

In terms of characters, all of the female leads, including the villain, actual present layers in a way I was not expecting.  There is a particularly affective moment towards the end when when we see deeper into Applegate's character and her motivations.  However on the flip side, every male character is one-dimensional.  Amy's husband is a cheating horn-dog.  Period.  There is a widowed single father Jessie (Jay Hernandez) that comes in as a love interest for Amy.  But while Hernandez is charming, his character is a completely flat perfect boyfriend cliche.  Kiki's husband (Lyle Brocato) is a straight-up misogynist.  Even when you compare Amy's two kids, the son has much less screen time, much less depth, and much less of a character arc than the daughter.  While it is true that many other movies are guilty of making all the female characters flat stereotypes, simply inverting the error does not make it better.


But the biggest problem with Bad Moms rests with the themes.  Movies like this need to follow a general structure in order to be satisfying

1.  Get a sense of how stifling the character's world is at the beginning of the movie.
2.  Enjoy the liberation the characters feel in rejecting their old life and responsibilities
3.  Pull back from the reckless total rejection and find balance between the two.

Bad Moms does one and two well, but they don't really get to the third.  I imagine there is something cathartic and satisfying parents, especially mothers, might feel in being able to complain about the foibles of their children while being understood that they lack no affection for them.  The second act is filled with these vent session and we are treated to the sense of freedom they have from the pressure to be perfect.  But instead of coming to a strong understanding that total irresponsibility is bad and so is expecting perfection, the movie embraces being a bad parent.  At the end of the movie there is a scene where several moms confess how they are bad.  But instead of it being a session to air contrition for their shortcomings, they all celebrate each others badness.

On top of this, the movie takes a very dim view of marriage.  When Amy's husband wants to come back and reconcile, they try counseling, but the counselor (an unfunny Wanda Sykes) says that they should get divorced.  The movie tries to move you to root for Amy to leave her husband and hook up with Jesse.  And while I understand that marital infidelity may be a bridge to far for some couples to reconcile, the easy dissolution of this marriage speaks to how impermanent the filmmakers see it.  In fact, none of the marriages in the movie are happy.

And it is any wonder that when the marriage are devoid of the love of God and the self donation that is a part of sacramental Christian marriage that the result would not only be bad marriages but bad dads.

And Bad Moms.

3 out of 5 stars

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