THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Poor behavior is one of the most popular sources of screen comedy. Bad Teacher, Bad Grandpa, and Bad Santa are just three fairly recent examples of “bad” movies. Bad Moms is similarly a celebration of refusal to follow societal norms. Like those other titles, it's filled with raunchy, R-rated humor. Also like them, it has a core of goodness beneath all the naughty behavior.
Mila Kunis plays Amy Mitchell, a young mother of two who spends her days trying to juggle career and family life. After separating from her dingbat husband (David Walton), she finds herself even more harried than usual. Amy's attempts to “do it all” leave her frustrated, especially after a clique of snooty moms, led by PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), openly look down on her. She responds by vowing not to care about maternal expectations anymore. Joining her in this crusade are promiscuous single mother Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), an overwhelmed woman who home schools her four children. They start partying and living it up, but when Gwendolyn launches a crusade of judgment against them, the trio has to find a way to get even.
Entire sections of Bad Moms are devoted to watching Amy, Carla, and Kiki indulge in hedonistic behavior, which is usually filmed in slow-motion so we can savor their mischief in all its misspent glory. The women trash a supermarket, throw a booze party, and attempt to get Amy laid. (Jay Hernandez plays a hunky single father she finds herself attracted to.) The movie's central joke – and it's a good one – is showing what would happen if mothers stopped giving a care. Amy's kids, for example, are baffled when she abruptly stops packing their school lunches, leaving them to fend for themselves. The scenarios created by filmmakers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (writers of The Hangover) are consistently funny. They don't just show poor behavior, they show poor behavior that has consequences, both positive and negative.
The way the movie spoofs the pressure many mothers face is extremely pointed. One of the funniest scenes finds Gwendolyn horrified to discover that Amy has brought store-bought donut holes to the school bake sale, rather than slaving away to make something from scratch. Bad Moms points out that some women have full-time careers, meaning they have less time to be the kind of Martha Stewart-y domestic goddesses that they're unfairly expected to be. That it's okay to not be a domestic goddess is an unusually empowering message in an otherwise silly comedy.
A picture like this is really made or broken by the performances. Played incorrectly, the raunchy humor can come off as being done merely for shock value. Played the right way, it leads to something more. Bad Moms has good performances across the board. Mila Kunis is convincing as a woman who tries so hard to be perfect that she eventually teeters over into “screw it” mode. Kristen Bell, meanwhile, hilariously plays a somewhat dorky mother who lives under her controlling husband's thumb. The way she conveys Kiki's growing confidence is fantastic. Christina Applegate is scarily believable as one of those parents who think everyone else should live up to their standards. The actress also nails a moment near the end where Gwendolyn shows a bit of vulnerability.
Bad Moms belongs to Kathryn Hahn, though. An MVP in any movie in which she appears, Hahn (We're the Millers, Wanderlust, The Visit) is delightfully riotous as Carla, the walking, talking id of the group. Hahn is one of those fearless comic actors who will commit 100% to any joke. That quality serves her well here, as Carla is required to say and do the most outrageous things imaginable. Bad Moms is further proof that she's one of the funniest people on the planet.
Not every joke in the picture is a winner, and some bits feel a little strained. On balance, though, there are more than enough big laughs to satisfy. And underneath it all is a pretty sincere message about how it's okay for parents to make mistakes sometimes. Amy and her friends aren't bad moms at all. They're good moms who just need to cut themselves some slack. Bad Moms may mine humor from misbehavior, but there's a big old heart in there, too, and that makes the film resonate.
( out of four)
Bad Moms is rated R for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.
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