'Moms' Night Out': Will Hollywood's Religious Movie Boom Extend to Comedy?

"We're calling it a mom-com," says a co-director of the Patricia Heaton-starring movie that seeks to extend the recent success of religious dramas to comedy.

This story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Hollywood's religious revival of 2014 is being put to a key test: Can a faith-based film pack in big audiences if it's a comedy?

The recent success of religion-themed dramas God's Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real and Son of God has awakened many traditional film executives to the power of the Christian audience. Now, with Moms' Night Out, which stars Patricia Heaton and is being released May 9 on about 1,000 domestic screens, that audience is being asked to support a lighter movie about a group of mothers out on the town.

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Moms' Night Out boasts a pedigree for success, given its distributors include TriStar Pictures, Provident Films and Affirm Films, all Sony-based companies behind such faith-based hits as Facing the Giants and Fireproof that have earned as much as 100 times their production budgets. Plus, several cast and crew from those and other faith-based movies are involved with Moms' Night Out. Fireproof director Alex Kendrick, for example, plays a Christian pastor in the film, and it is co-directed by brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, whose microbudget October Baby rode a strong anti-abortion message to $5.4 million domestic in 2011.

The PG-rated religious message in Moms' Night Out is less overt. In the $5 million film, a stressed-out mother of young children (Sarah Drew) attempts an outing with other moms from the same congregation, including Heaton, whose production company, FourBoys Films, is a producer. "The faith is clear but soft, whereas most films targeting Christians seem to go heavier on the message," says Ben Howard, senior vp at Provident. "We hope this movie broadens the audience."

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The film also stars Heaton's husband, David Hunt, along with Sean Astin and country music star Trace Adkins as a tattooed biker who comes to the aid of the women when their plans go awry. Jon Erwin says the script is based on an idea by castmember Logan White, who's married to David A.R. White, a producer not only of Moms' Night Out but also God's Not Dead, a $2 million film that has earned $54 million this spring.

Moms' Night Out is getting a marketing push on TV and talk radio, but like most faith-based films, it mainly is relying on social media and word of mouth. It has screened about 150 times for roughly 20,000 people, including church groups, military wives and "mom bloggers" who reach 15 million women, says Kris Fuhr, founder of Moviegal Marketing. It's also being marketed to Mothers of Preschoolers, a nationwide organization better known as MOPS.

"We're calling it a mom-com," says Jon Erwin. "My goal was to make a movie where moms can identify with everything on the screen and be reminded of how valuable they are."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com