Directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell
2 (out of 5) Globes
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore will be forever known as “the guys who wrote ‘The Hangover.’” Their claim to fame was a raucous boys’ comedy, with a premise so simple it could be summarized in one grabby sentence. No such luck for ladies. Lucas and Moore’s “Bad Moms” is more sprawling, its hook more vague, the comedic hijinks rarely inspired. The guys got to run afoul of eccentric gangsters and mystery babies and Tasers. The girls get drunk at a dive bar and then later at a house party.
Not that “Bad Moms” needed to be “‘The Hangover’ for girls.” It’s a comedy that’s more recognizably human, more rooted in real anxieties. It is, in short, progressive, but not in the ostentatious, self-congratulatory way of “Neighbors 2.” What it lacks in wild inspiration it marginally makes up for with genuine empathy and even bits of real insight into the strains (and, inevitably, joys) of motherhood. That doesn’t sound like an ideal trade-off, and you could easily accuse it of pulling its punches, assuming women don’t need a movie where they get to act like totally out-of-control maniacs. Failing that, you could point out it’s too scattershot and only passably funny.
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It is well-cast, though. A keyed-up Mila Kunis leads the pack as Amy, a forever-harried mother of two, who’s barely able to juggle a part-time job with parenthood. That’s not because she’s that awful stereotype: the woman who’s great at her job but bad at her life. She just doesn’t have time to do anything but run around. She finds her life changed anew upon meeting two fellow moms: Kristen Bell’s Kiki and Kathryn Hahn’s Carla. Kiki is even more stressed than Amy; Carla simply doesn’t give a shit.
Together they decide to become bad moms. (Amy says, “Let’s be bad moms!”) What that means is up for debate. Mostly they drink a little more, call out of work to go to a movie matinee, ask their kids to make their own breakfast for a change. Eventually Amy decides to challenge the power-mad harridan (Christina Applegate) who runs the PTA for her position, only so she can make them do less bake sales. This plot, which is barely half-assed, is part “Election,” if it was told from the perspective of the sarcastic Tammy Metzler, part a classic slobs versus snobs comedy, in which the pert and prim PTA heads watch as their minions bro down during a raucous house party that never comes close to the havoc of last year’s “Sisters.”
“Bad Mom” is a film that flails about while mostly wasting its premise. Its comedic set pieces are limp and lazy: Here’s another film where lilywhite suburbanites strut around in jokey slow-mo to loud rap music. And it’s one more modern comedy where slack writing is smoothed over by a game cast of ad-libbers. They do deliver. Hahn is predictably scene-stealing in reprobate mode, calling her teenage son a “dumb motherf—ker” and dressing like she just woke up with a week’s straight of hangovers. Bell is sneakily better, looking both tired and freakily alert, coming off like someone who never thought to wonder if her husband, who blithely passes off all parental responsibility to her, is a cad. All the supporting roles are filled by ringers, who fire off lines about how great it is that the hot widower (Jay Hernandez) has a wife who’s dead.
It’s a film that ultimately cares about everyone, preaches for a better world in which women aren’t pressured to be perfect moms. There’s even a scene where Amy begs her son to have more agency, so he doesn’t grow up to be the kind of entitled troll that would rail against, say, a “Ghostbusters” reboot starring women. It’s a good cast and a good vibe in search of a movie that gives them something better to do.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge