Ayelet Waldman Eat Your Heart Out: Bad Moms

bad-moms

Bad Moms
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Opens July 29

From (two of) “the dudes who brought you The Hangover” comes another entry in the proliferating Bad/Dirty-verse still ruled by 2003’s Bad Santa (Dirty Grandpa was a late overachiever). It arrives fortuitously on the heels of Ghostbusters as another male-helmed but woman-centric repurposing of old product, though Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are attempting something more than a Hangover, Hall Pass or their own 21 & Over for ladies. That was Bridesmaids, but Bad Moms attempts to bring the debauchery along with a progressive statement about the perils of modern motherhood, and capitalism and the patriarchy’s unrealistic demands of moms today, all while maintaining a middlebrow sentimentality for the bonds of mother and child. The ambition might be to Lucas and Moore’s credit, but each ingredient suffers from the dilution. Once Mila Kunis’s Amy opts to break bad, scenes of carousal (usually in slow-motion and set to current radio pop-rap) are bookended by tonally opposite “committed mothering” moments, before it all barrels towards a life-affirming climax, and then another, as Bad Moms has more endings than Return of the King.

Amy’s goodness-shedding is exacerbated by a slack-jawed beardbro husband caught masturbating to a videochat girlfriend, a “young creative” douche boss who makes her overwork for no pay while her millennial creep colleagues play ping-pong, and a villainous shark mother (scene-stealing Christina Applegate) at her kids’ school who makes Amy attend four-hour PTA meetings akin to North Korean loyalty rallies. Carla (Kathryn Hahn) is the proudly slutty, genuinely derelict mom who eggs on Amy’s misconduct, while Kiki (Kristen Bell) is the even more family-stressed and repressed mom (her pet fantasy is being nursed and getting to eat bottomless Jell-o in the hospital after being in a car crash) who follows along. None of their subsequent behavior is all that bad—mostly binge drinking liquor or “shitty wine,” with a sprinkling of petty vandalism and reckless driving—to the point which the gratuitous profanity might’ve been piled on only to earn the “R” rating and a veneer of transgressiveness. With the scumminess of her kicked-out husband, whom she’d married at 20 and is the only guy she’s slept with, established, Amy’s cutely hesitant flirtations with a widowed school dad (any-hunk Jay Hernandez) are given such a cautious seal of socially acceptable approval that the resultant nudity-free sex isn’t erotic, let alone “bad.”

Lucas and Moore’s careful bets-hedging sterilizes the rowdiness, hinting that the promise of bad behavior was just bait to bring an audience to a warm-at-core and shopworn story of a woman overcoming adversity and learning to appreciate her own modern version of (still-wholesome) family values. Of course, it’s unclear how dark they could’ve gotten in a summer studio comedy, or if that necessarily would’ve been preferable. There are funny lines, like when another PTA hell-mom, possibly Middle Eastern, sneers that Amy “looks foreign,” or when the chiseled soccer coach whines that he only works at the school to make enough money to feed his beloved cats. As Amy’s anxious, Ivy League hopeful adolescent daughter, Oona Laurence is excellent. A lecture from Amy to her son about male privilege is a brief tour-de-force of writing. Chicago looks handsome in the chopper shots, though the action was filmed in New Orleans. But Bad Moms mostly shines when the cameras just roll on the talented actors seemingly riffing. Hahn’s the MVP throughout, especially in the long buildup to Amy’s manhunting date, as Carla and Kiki mock Amy’s mothballed wardrobe and Hahn launches into an extended riff on uncircumcised cocks, illustrated with Kiki and a pink hoodie. Less great is the fumbled use of Wendell Pierce as the school principal, who has to awkwardly sit in frame during Amy’s climactic “maybe all moms are ‘bad’ moms… and that’s O.K.” PTA election night speech (“bad” here meaning flawed and human and trying their darndest). You have to take the scattered pleasures where you can find them in Bad Moms, and know that there’s an actually dangerous comedy on the subject waiting to be made.

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