The late Garry Marshall’s last film was released this spring. It was called Mother’s Day, and it wasn’t mentioned in many of the director’s obituaries, mostly because it was terrible and a sad ending to his long career. If only he could have lived to see Bad Moms, a comedy that trumps his in every possible way. It may not be as nuanced or layered as some other excellent recent movies about motherhood, but compared with the pap that Hollywood so often serves up to women who are of an age to be mothers, this is a blast of profane fresh air.
Mila Kunis stars as Amy Mitchell, a 32-year-old Chicagoan who’s hopelessly underpaid at work and overstressed trying to parent her two tweens (Emjay Anthony and Oona Laurence) with minimal help from her husband (David Walton), even though he works from home. It makes little difference, then, when she kicks him out in a hilariously mortifying scene when she discovers him carrying on an online affair with a sex worker. What makes her snap is when local PTA head Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) subjects her to a PowerPoint presentation organizing the local bake sale and banning any ingredient that might taste good in the name of kids’ allergies. Amy launches her own little rebellion against Gwendolyn and what she represents: a parenting culture that demands endless amounts of error-free work from mothers. She’s joined in this by Kiki (Kristen Bell), a stay-at-home mom who’s going insane from social isolation, and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a divorced mom reveling in her unattached state.
This movie is by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the team that directed 21 & Over but is better known for writing The Hangover and its sequels. If you’re skeptical about these guys writing a comedy about women (and I’ll admit I was), you’ll be glad to know that while writing women doesn’t come naturally to them, they fake it well enough. There are two riotous sequences when Amy, Kiki, and Carla raise hell that play like badly needed female correctives to The Hangover, one at a supermarket and one when Amy throws a proper rager for her fellow moms, complete with Martha Stewart (who plays herself) making Jell-O shots. I do wish that this movie had gone to the same anarchic lengths as The Hangover — when Amy’s daughter chews her out for neglecting her parenting duties, it feels uncomfortably close to the movie scolding Amy for her behavior and us for enjoying it. Ultimately, Bad Moms thinks it needs to strike a balance between the hijinks and the characters’ responsibilities to their kids. That’s not a bad thing on its face. I just don’t remember many comedies about men that expect them to curb their behavior because they’re dads.
They do get the right actresses for this, though. All three of these women contribute worthy reactions and riffs, though the straw that stirs this drink is Hahn, who is so underappreciated that it’s no longer funny. There’s a great piece of physical comedy when a discussion of uncircumcised penises leads Carla to demonstrate sex technique on Kiki by zipping her hoodie up over her head. (What makes the scene is Bell’s dazed reaction as Hahn rubs the hood up and down. Demonstration over, Kiki says, “I’m never wearing this sweater again.”) Kunis isn’t quite as accomplished a comedienne as the other two, but her sitcom experience serves her well. Plus, she gets a stellar riff when she envisions a bleak future for her son if she keeps doing his homework for him: “You’re going to hate women, and you’ll grow an ironic mustache to make people think you’re interesting, but you won’t actually be interesting.” No wonder the boy gets ground down. The contributions come from other quarters, too: Gwendolyn’s own clique of mean ladies who run the PTA are a fine bunch in themselves, with Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo scoring as an idiot who blurts out inconvenient truths to Gwendolyn.
I could have done without the closing-credit sequence in which the actresses appear as themselves with their real-life mothers. Even so, Bad Moms is a belated Mother’s Day present dropping into our multiplexes this week, and I won’t be throwing it away.
Starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn. Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Rated R.[/box_info]