Laser-focused on its target audience, Bad Moms fancies itself The Hangover for over-stressed suburban mothers. Being written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the duo behind that aforementioned franchise, you might be expecting a similar level of crazy hijinks, but surprisingly Bad Moms plays things pretty safe. One foul-mouthed Kathryn Hahn and a couple of music montages aside, it turns out to be a pretty tame comedy with some heavily exaggerated personalities. More conservative viewers might enjoy indulging in some of the uncouth humour, and undoubtedly there is more value for those that can relate to its frazzled subjects, but for everyone else Bad Moms will prove an enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable, 100 minutes of comedy.
The film follows worn-down supermom Amy (Mila Kunis) as she struggles to keep things together in the wake of separating from her husband. After befriending fellow overwhelmed parents Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), the trio adopt a more Zen approach to motherhood and learn to be more forgiving on themselves; to hell with what the other moms have to say. Inevitably, this puts Amy at odds with fascist PTA figurehead Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), leaving Amy to juggle trying to reclaim control of her life with an intense game of soccer-mom politics.
Straight off the bat, the plot is incredibly simple and formulaic. The character development throughout is inorganic and unearned and the film’s conflict is pretty far-fetched. There is an undeniable laziness to the script, forever eager to keep the plot moving along and cramming in packets of emotional exchange that feel manipulative more than they do tender. It’s difficult to tell if Moore and Lucas are simply ill-equipped for the subject matter, or if they saw it as little more than a vehicle for the comedy, but the result is a feeling of disinterest from the filmmakers in what is essentially the spine of the story.
But despite the haphazard handling, Bad Moms does stumble across a reasonably admirable philosophy. This is a movie that forgives its audience and their perceived shortfalls by trying to empathize rather than sympathize, and ultimately congratulates them on undertaking the most impossible of tasks. To an irresponsible late-twenties male like myself it feels a little heavy handed, but I suspect that Bad Moms’ desired demographic will find it less patronizing and maybe even a little uplifting. Saccharine though it can be, the film does deserve points for having something worthwhile to say beyond its very basic premise. I’d also be lying if I said the post-film extras didn’t fill me with some warm and fuzzy feelings.
Thankfully, the comedy is a little more universal and hits a lot more than it misses. While it does feel a little bit like it’s trying to be outrageous for people who don’t want to be outraged, the dialogue pops and the Apatow-esque musings stir up plenty of laughs. Kunis plays a wonderful straight-woman and her trying unsuccessfully to come out of her shell gives plenty of setup for the cast to riff on. The mousy Kiki is a problematic and slightly unbelievable character for the film, but Bell’s charisma manages to shine through and her razor sharp delivery earns her the movie’s most subtly effective laughs.
Hahn’s unapologetic and man-hungry Carla is undoubtedly Bad Moms’ biggest personality, relentlessly dropping scene-stealing lines faster than you can catch them and giving the movie an edge it so desperately needs. Sadly, she comes as a double-edged sword, as the editor clearly felt compelled to keep as much of her material as they could. Too often does Bad Moms hang on one of her strings of f-bombs, thus coming dangerously close to having the film’s most interesting character overstay their welcome.
While Bad Moms’ cast delivers pretty much across the board, the same can sadly not be said for the characters they represent. While Carla is fine doing her thing as what is essentially comic relief, the titular moms are woefully underdeveloped on the whole. Kiki’s oppressed housewife is particularly one-note, presenting more of a mean-spirited gag than an actual person (and tragically underutilizing one of the most formidable ladies in the cast). Through virtue of extended screen time, Amy isn’t quite as hollow as some her fellow moms, but even her defining struggles often seem overblown and uninteresting. Undoubtedly the worst, though through no fault of Applegate’s, is the laughably and unnecessarily evil Gwendolyn, who could have just as easily tied Amy to the train tacks and awaited a steam engine as her master plan without it feeling like too much of a stretch for the character.
While certainly not a comedy exclusively for parents, Bad Moms is one that caters very heavily to a specific audience. I hate to say something as cliché as it being a good movie to take you mother to, but truth is it probably is perfect if you’re looking for something digestible for a more reserved viewer, while also containing enough comedy and personality that you can still enjoy the experience. Some decent giggles in an unfortunately bland package, Bad Moms is a safe bet for a few good laughs, but not too much else.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10