Film Review: Bad Moms

Mila Kunis plays an overstretched working mother who leads a revolt against Christina Applegate’s perfectionist PTA president in a mildly funny and surprisingly feminist comedy from the writers of 'The Hangover.'
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Five years after Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher found easy jokes in the then-taboo sight of middle-school teacher Cameron Diaz showing up to work hung over and mocking her students, the pocket genre of films and TV shows about women in positions of authority shirking their responsibilities (“Bad Judge,” anyone?) seems to have hit a peak. In Bad Moms, writing and directing team Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover, Four Christmases) spin the recent trend of just-relax books and blogs extolling “moms who drink” and the backlash against overscheduled childhoods into a rebellious party epic. It’s not exactly for the ages, but it’s not exactly The Hangover Part II, either.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is one of those doing-it-all overachiever moms. As the frantic opening montage shows, she is forever on the go, running her two kids to school and activities when she’s not shopping, running the household and, oh yes, working. Her breaking point comes not when Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), the PTA president with the X-ray vision for imperfections, mocks her mothering abilities, but when she finds her lazy man-child of a husband Mike (David Walton) having a virtual affair with a woman he met online.

In one fell swoop, Amy transitions from über-mom to arrested-development slacker whose new activities range from back-to-basics tough love (having the kids make their own breakfast) to more aggressive acting-out (going after the hot widower dad all the moms lust after). As in any decent party flick, she gets a posse: prissy fussbudget Kiki (Kristen Bell, fantastic) and let-it-fly rager and quasi-alcoholic Carla (Kathryn Hahn).

The ladies booze it up, cruise around to Foghat on the stereo, strut around and generally let their hair down. They also share mom-centric fantasies like being allowed to eat breakfast alone and what they truly hate but don’t dare admit, like Carla’s declaration: “I’d rather go to Afghanistan than another kid’s baseball game.” Eventually, everything converges at a house party where all the schools’ moms drink and dance in the kind of slo-mo groove that’s only a spraying bottle of champagne away from Seth Rogen dancing by.

It wouldn’t be a cutting-loose party movie without some villains who want to spoil the fun. That’s where Gwendolyn and her enforcers (Annie Mumolo and Jada Pinkett Smith) come in, with their suburban-fascist façades just waiting to be cracked by Amy’s insurgent candidacy for PTA president. Although effectively channeling the old slobs-versus-snobs National Lampoon dynamic, the battle between the two groups of moms is less engaging as comedy than it is as a feminist cri de coeur against the modern era’s demands for motherly perfectionism. This also entails a surprisingly sharp calling-out of entitled white dudes, such as when Amy chides her whining son who doesn’t want to do his homework: “You’re not a slow learner, you’re just entitled.” The women-first theme gets carried nicely through to the end credits, where each of the stars swap funny, teary-eyed stories with their actual moms.

As writers, Lucas and Moore ably translate their same brand of hit-and-miss humor right over from The Hangover, needing only to substitute different anatomical references to account for a cast with a different gender. This also means a shifting of celebrity cameos: Martha Stewart (playing herself here, with a neat recipe for Jello shots) instead of Mike Tyson. About the only thing that can be said for their indifferent directing style is their superb instinct for casting. With the exception of Kunis herself, who is far too confident to believably play the initially put-upon spineless weakling, the rest of the cast commits enthusiastically to their roles, particularly Bell, and Wanda Sykes and Wendell Pierce in spot-on cameos.

Bad Moms turns the tide somewhat for a summer of otherwise disappointing female-centric rowdy comedies. If you don’t think that’s saying something, then you haven’t seen Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

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