‘Bad Moms’ Features More Bad Filmmaking Than Bad Behavior

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I hate the term “chick flick.” It’s a reductive term that exists only to lower expectations. “You weren’t going to like it, it’s a chick flick,” is an oft-heard reply when I levy criticisms against a movie that is geared for female audiences. To me, if a movie doesn’t achieve what it aims, it’s a bad movie. My judgement as a critic isn’t based solely upon the gender of whom the movie is aimed at, but how a movie achieves its goals. One way the soft sexism of low expectations have been undermined is through raunchy comedies geared for women. Bridesmaids broke the glass ceiling of raunchy comedy and paved the way for women to be just as crude as men in comedic fare. The latest R-rated comedy headlined by women is Bad Moms, which is written and directed by the duo of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, most famous for writing The Hangover. With laughs few and far between, Bad Moms merely proves that women can headline ineffectual comedies just as well as men.

In the opening voiceover, Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) informs the audience that she got pregnant at 20 and has been “late ever since.” She scrambles between getting her two kids ready for school, working, and tending to the house as her layabout husband Mike (David Walton) does as little as possible. At her children’s school, the PTA is run by Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), who is a controlling micromanager of all school-related activities. Shortly after discovering her husband has been carrying out an online relationship with a camgirl, Amy decides that the life of never-ending stress isn’t worth it anymore, and makes a public declaration at a PTA meeting. At a local bar, Amy meets Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a single mother with a hard-drinking personality and a voracious sexual appetite, and is soon met by Kiki (Kristen Bell), a stay-at-home mom overworked by her domineering husband. The trio soon forms an alliance of imperfect mothers willing to whatever the hell they want, much to the chagrin of Gwendolyn and her lackeys Stacey (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo). When Amy decides to run for PTA president, it sparks a contentious rivalry between Gwendolyn and her loyal followers and Amy with her crew of bad moms.

The lone shining star of Bad Moms is Kathryn Hahn, who once again gets to highlight her unique abilities to elevate underwhelming material, as she’s done in dreck like The Do-Over. Hahn provides the film with its lone source of edgy material and she sells each raunchy line delivery with comedic conviction. The biggest shame of the movie is the fact that Hahn isn’t the film’s main character, and the script by Lucas and Moore keep her character at a distance. It’s not until much later in the film that we’re even introduced to her meathead son, though that could be written off as part of her character’s interest in partying over parenting. The white trash member of the group, Carla is the only character of the three whose house we never see, and in a film where every character lives in posh upper-upper-upper middle class homes, it’s represents a wasted opportunity for the film to inject a bit of class humor in the story.

The main character of Bad Moms is Mila Kunis’ Amy, and she’s also the only character with anything resembling a story arc. The entirety of arc is simply that she needs to assert herself more, whether it’s with her no-goodnik husband (who in his own right is a baffling character, with all the sloven idiocy of Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec but is somehow a mortgage broker) or with her millennial boss (played by Clark Duke) at a the hipster coffee company where she’s a part-time employee working full-time hours. That same lesson of being assertive is the sole character arc of Kristen Bell’s Kiki, who in the end stands up to her husband. Whereas Bell’s character is given the trait of being somewhat sheltered and naïve, there’s little in the way of characteristics for Kunis’ Amy, who is just a highly competent woman that is overworked professionally and as a parent.

What Bad Moms is going for is a take on the comedy tradition of snobs vs. slobs, with Kunis and her gang of bad moms vs. Applegate and her uptight PTA. Except there’s little to really give us much understanding as to why Applegate’s Gwendolyn is so domineering in everything that she does; it’s a real one-sided rivalry from the viewer’s perspective, one that has Gwendolyn as an unredeemable villain without ever giving us anything in the way of motivation. It’s not until the film’s conclusion that we learn why Gwendolyn is the way she is in an astoundingly tone deaf, contradictory manner. The film also fails to give any reason as to why Stacey or Vicky would suck up to the totalitarian Gwendolyn, and neither character has much to do though Mumolo’s Vicky is able to be the group’s ditz while Pinkett Smith’s Stacey has maybe five lines of dialogue.

What Bad Moms is going for is a take on the comedy tradition of snobs vs. slobs, with Kunis and her gang of bad moms vs. Applegate and her uptight PTA. Except there’s little to really give us much understanding as to why Applegate’s Gwendolyn is so domineering in everything that she does; it’s a real one-sided rivalry from the viewer’s perspective, one that has Gwendolyn as an unredeemable villain without ever giving us anything in the way of motivation. It’s not until the film’s conclusion that we learn why Gwendolyn is the way she is in an astoundingly tone deaf, contradictory manner. The film also fails to give any reason as to why Stacey or Vicky would suck up to the totalitarian Gwendolyn, and neither character has much to do though Mumolo’s Vicky is able to be the group’s ditz while Pinkett Smith’s Stacey has maybe five lines of dialogue.

Aside from the promiscuity and crudeness of Hahn’s Carla, there’s really not much that’s bad about these bad moms. The extent of bad behavior pretty much ranges from liberal use of F-bombs to indulging in alcoholic beverages. Simply, there’s little that seems outrageous about the behavior onscreen. I mean, there’s nothing bad about Amy seeking out a relationship with the school’s hot widower (Jay Hernandez) following the disintegration of her marriage nor is there anything particularly bad about catching a matinee and lunch with friends.

The worst human behavior on Bad Moms comes from behind the camera, as directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are illiterate in visual language. From their perspective, people drinking and causing a ruckus is all the more hilarious if presented in slow motion. There’s probably more scenes in slow motion in Bad Moms than in The Matrix. Without a doubt, Bad Moms features the worst cinematography I’ve witnessed in a feature film all year. Every scene is garish and overlit, sometimes so egregiously so that bright backlighting overshadows the contours of the characters and settings of the frame. In all honesty, I’m left to wonder if cinematographer Jim Denault used the filming of Bad Moms as a chance for a paid vacation, leaving the job of shooting the actual movie to some unpaid, unexperienced intern.

The most shocking piece of bad parenting in Bad Moms comes in the end credits as the parents of cast member recount stories from raising their children. It’s an indictment on the tame nature of the film that the most jaw-dropping piece of parenting is an anecdote from Christina Applegate’s mother about taking her 9-year-old daughter to the Al Pacino film Cruising, which is about a detective going undercover in the gay S&M subculture to find a killer. Throughout its running time, Bad Moms takes place in a world that doesn’t resemble reality, where the PTA is practically the school’s administrative wing. The film does have a nice message about overworked mothers, but the subject matter does little to make the message more than a platitude at the film’s hackneyed conclusion. The big problem with Bad Moms is that it’s written and directed by two men, lacking a female voice on the creative level. Between Bad Moms and Mother’s Day, 2016 has been a pretty dreadful year for comedies about motherhood. It’s a shame. Our mothers deserve so much better, and so much funnier than this.

Bad Moms
  • Overall Score
1.5

Summary

Not even an incredibly spirited performance from Kathryn Hahn can save Bad Moms from its inept filmmaking and remarkably dull story that attempts to repurpose slobs vs. snobs for moms vs. the PTA.

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