Friday, August 5, 2016

'Bad Moms' review

In a summer movie season riddled with inconsistency and disappointment, the big comedies have actually managed to be remarkably solid. Popstar is pretty much an instant classic, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Neighbors 2 were both decent, and now, STX Entertainment's Bad Moms has hit theaters, joining this summer's class of R-rated comedies. And just like the others, it's a good time at the movies, mixing likable characters with raunchy humor to solid effect. When the jokes land, they land hard, and my audience (made up mostly of mothers) seemed to eat up every minute of this one. And honestly, it isn't hard to see why- Bad Moms finds something both clever and universal in suburban motherhood, which will tickle the funny bones of anyone who has lived through it (like me!). The film is far too long and the final act gets bogged down with way too much unnecessary sermonizing, but when directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore kick the humor into high gear, Bad Moms is a crudely amiable treat.

Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is the most overworked mom in suburban Chicago. She works part-time for a hipster coffee company, has to make sure her kids do good in school, deal with a variety of extra-curricular activities, and ultimately, keep things calm with the crazy PTA moms at school. After one particularly bad day that causes her to try to juggle more than usual, Amy decides that she's just had it. She's sick of the unnecessary work, sick of control-freak PTA chief Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), and sick of being a good mom. With the help of neglected stay-at-home mom Kiki (Kristen Bell), and single mother Carla (Kathryn Hahn), Amy will attempt to change the entire parenting dynamic of her school. By engaging in all sorts of debauchery, these normal, everyday women will get to finally be "bad moms."

Bad Moms thrives off the talent and chemistry of its three leads, as well as a terrific supporting cast. Even as the star of the show, Mila Kunis has the fewest funny moments, instead positioning herself as the emotional center of the movie. Kunis' Amy is the one character who struggles to fit into a mom caricature of sorts, and there's a refreshing humanity to her. Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn round out the main mother trio, and they're both quite fantastic. Bell's Kiki has a rather well-defined arc, and the Frozen star brings a dorky, goofy charm that is fun to watch. Hahn, on the other hand, is as vulgar and crude as they come, and she takes the stage during some of the film's most outrageous moments. I've never been a huge fan of her supporting roles in the past, but here, she knocks it out of the park. Christina Applegate is delectably evil as the domineering PTA chair, who pretty much runs everything in the school. Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo round out the principal cast as Gwendolyn's lackeys, and they're both decent in the roles.

The film is at its sharpest when directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore fully explore the social dynamics of parenthood and how that has changed over time. As someone who goes to an academically-driven school and sees the crazy things that parents (especially moms) do for their children all the time, so much of Bad Moms was chillingly spot-on. Sure, some of the jokes are obvious, but that doesn't mean they don't land. The raunchy party scenes and f-bomb droppings are funny for sure, and yet, I found myself laughing more at the subtle humor, the little knocks and jabs at the helicopter parent generation and the way that has shaped so much of life for kids these days. It's raucously funny, but also slyly satirical.

Bad Moms loses itself in the final act, where the story is stretched out to obscene lengths, taking a turn into unabashed sentimentality. It runs for 100 minutes, but certainly feels longer than that, drawn out by a whole range of totally unnecessary subplots, twists, and turns. The PTA election is set up as the climax of the film, and that's a sensible decision- after all, it always feels like the plot is building to that moment. However, the choice to have Kunis' Amy deliver a hokey speech about the meaning of being a "bad mom" is utterly baffling. Maybe it's therapeutic to the target audience (middle-aged moms), but it felt off to me. A good chunk of the movie is deliciously angry and sour, which makes the final turn into schmaltzy sweetness all the more absurd.

If you're able to overlook the obvious dramatic issues towards the end, you'll probably have a good time with Bad Moms. It's funny, smart, and clever, which is much more than I can say for most movies that have come out this summer. I loved spending time with these characters, and the cast is absolutely terrific. If the filmmakers had only pushed a little harder, gone further, and tested some truly outrageous limits, I can only imagine how good this movie would have been. But as it is, Bad Moms is a decently raunchy exploration of the repressed anger and irresponsibility inside every suburban family.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

Images courtesy of STX Entertainment

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