I can’t remember a time when Hollywood comedies were as unambitious as they generally have been to date during 2016, though that’s not to say we’ve reached a nadir just yet, and if we have then Jon Lucas’ and Scott Moore’s Bad Moms certainly isn’t to blame; there are some well-written jokes here, after all, as well as some cheap, throwaway lines that are equally funny, and the delivery of the main actors is just fine. It’s a comedy, and it makes you laugh, and of course that’s enough to satisfy a lot of people ($120m and counting against a budget of $20m). But shouldn’t we be expecting more? This thing feels like it has come right off a conveyor belt, given that it’s yet another one of those slightly risqué people-behaving-irresponsibly affairs that are currently in vogue (see also Bad Neighbours, Dirty Grandpa, Horrible Bosses, etc.), though perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that it’s directed by the guys who wrote The Hangover. At present these types of films are the most formulaic that I can think of in terms of mainstream cinema; by contrast the oft-pilloried blockbusters that fit within tightly-controlled superhero and sci-fi universes are made with way more flair and skill, are far more likely to surprise. It’s quite depressing to see the sheer number of comedies on general release each year that seem to hit every same damned beat in terms of the choice of soundtrack (and indeed the points at which certain types of music kick in), the nature of the comedy, the thinly-drawn characters, the untaxing plots, the lack of ambition with regard to the cinematography, and the rushed, this’ll-do nature of the acting. (‘Hey, it’s just comedy,’ I hear you say. ‘There’s no need to overthink things’. To which I reply ‘Leave. Now. Please. Our differences are irreconcilable and it’s best if we go our separate ways’.)
In this film Mila Kunis plays Amy Mitchell, the stressed-out mother of two school-age kids, who is trying hard to combine her busy job at a (well-lampooned) hipster coffee company with her duties as a parent. She has little-to-no support from her lazy, buffoonish husband (David Walton) and extra hassle from the school’s tyrannical PTA, led by Christina Applegate’s domineering Gwendoline, while her boss (Clark Duke) is an imbecile and her children aren’t grateful for all the effort she puts in. A particularly bad 24 hours leads Amy to tell everyone – boss, PTA, husband, kids – to go to hell, and she finds two kindred spirits (Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell) who want to join her in behaving badly in the supermarket aisle, getting drunk, going to the flicks instead of ironing and – gasp! – turning up at the bakeathon with shop-bought donuts and a bad attitude. It’s all bawdy, knockabout fun, with references to penises and vaginas and drugs and other used-to-be taboos, and the best material here skewers the draconian nature of PTAs and extra-curricular activities generally (the PTA meeting about ingredients that can’t be used in the bakeathon is a hoot, and a showcase for Applegate’s fine comic timing). There are some basic, positive messages here about women not being doormats and teaching kids to stop being entitled little brats and the like, too, if you’re willing to take the film at face value, though it is written and directed by two men and its rampant celebration of consumerism and wealthy, upper-middle-class lifestyles might put people off. Hahn, Bell, Applegate and Jada Pinkett Smith (as another PTA committee member) are good value, while Kunis – who looks like someone who has just strolled onto the set after a month-long holiday in The Bahamas, as opposed to an overworked mom who has been running at 200mph for the past decade – is up to the task of playing straight while the madness revolves around her. So, all in all it’s OK, even if it is just another one of those paper-thin comedies. A big financial success, though, so no doubt we’ll be seeing more.
Directed by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore.
Written by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore.
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay Hernandez, Annie Mumolo, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, David Walton, Wendell Pierce.
Cinematography: Jim Denault.
Editing: Emma E. Hickox, James Thomas.
Music: Christopher Lennertz, Various.
Running Time: 100 minutes.