‘Fun Mom Dinner’: Film Review | Sundance 2017

Courtesy of Sundance
Boozy but never snoozy.

Toni Collette, Katie Aselton, Bridget Everett and Molly Shannon star as a mismatched quartet of matriarchs up for mischief in director Alethea Jones' feature debut.

Salty, sweet and fun to chew over — sort of like taffy, but not so hard on the dental work — Fun Mom Dinner is a palatable addition to that growing subgenre of bawdy, female-centric comedies (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters, or nearly anything with Melissa McCarthy). Indeed, one might even say it’s a respectable contribution to the sub-subgenre of movies which fit that description but also features over-30 mothers going rogue from the norms of parenthood (see also Afternoon Delight, Bad Moms or most things with Kathryn Hahn). A little scrappier and a tiny bit naughtier than usual for this sort of fare, it’s no surprise Fun Mom Dinner is ultimately headed to Netflix where clever little algorithms will nudge it in the direction of folk likely to watch it with a bottle of wine or two on a night when they can’t get a babysitter.

Set in an unspecified corner of suburban Los Angeles, the kind of neighborhood where the families own SUVs, have big lots and are mostly white, the story revolves around four families whose kids all go to the same cozy elementary school. Harried mother-of-two Emily (Katie Aselton) was a high-powered lawyer before she met husband Tom (Adam Scott). However, now they’ve grown so distant and exhausted by parenthood, he can barely bring himself to kiss her on the mouth as he leaves in the morning. And that’s before her toddler throws the contents of his diaper in her face. Dope-smoking mom-of-four-boys Kate (Toni Collette), on the other hand, Emily’s best friend since college, has found a way to keep the love alive with her husband Andrew (Rob Huebel), thanks mostly to her willingness to dispense fellatio during commercial breaks and not giving a shit who she offends with her smart-ass ways.

We learn nothing about the spouse of Melanie (the delightful Bridget Everett, in the McCarthy-patented ballsy big-woman role), but clearly whoever he is, he’s totally irrelevant given the way she can organize her large brood every morning and still work a shift as the school’s crossing guard. Finally, meek Jamie (Molly Shannon) looks at first like a classic downtrodden housewife, trying to cope with the challenges of single parenthood now that she’s separated from her husband and tentatively dipping a toe in the dating scene via various social media apps.  

Of course, none of the women are exactly what they seem. All is revealed over the course of one night out, when Emily agrees to join Melanie and Jamie for the titular hair-loosening event, and tricks Kate into coming along as well, despite Kate's antipathy to making friends with other moms, especially ones like Melanie and Jamie. But despite some cursory insults in the early hours of the evening, it only takes some cocktails, a joint smoked in the parking lot and agreement about the faults and foibles of men to get the party started. Before long, Melanie is walking around inexplicably in a plush onesie with a shark head, Kate is singing a karaoke version of “99 Luftballons," Emily is on the verge of making hot monkey love with bartender Luke (Adam Levine) and Jamie has found a potential boyfriend in geeky younger man Barry (Paul Rust).

The screenplay by Julie Rudd (whose real-life husband Paul Rudd gets a wacky cameo as a medicinal marijuana dealer married to partner in legal-highs David Wain) dispenses some zippy one-liners along the way, but one suspects some of the best bits were probably made up on the spot given the likes of Everett and Shannon have such a strong background in standup and improv. The cutaway scenes to Huebel’s Andrew and Scott’s Tom evening of true confessions while babysitting the collective kids feels similarly half-written, half winging it, but the actors natural charm keeps the proceedings buoyant.

Plotwise, it’s all a bit of a loosey-goosey, likeable shambles, just about held together by first-time director Alethea Jones’ subtle deployment of formal devices, like a color palette that goes from girly pastels and static camerawork in the beginning to hot, La La Land-style saturated primary colors and handheld lensing as the night wears on. There’s clearly a family resemblance here to Jones’ award-winning short Lemonade Stand, a typically Australian bit of comedy quirkiness that also demonstrates Jones’ knack for production design, whimsy and gross-out humor. With talents like those, she ought to go far in this town.

Production companies: A Momentum Pictures, Netflix release of a June Pictures presentation of a Gettin' Rad production
Cast: Toni Collette, Katie Aselton, Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Rob Huebel, Adam Scott, Adam Levine, Paul Rudd, David Wain, Paul Rust,
Director: Alethea Jones
Screenwriter: Julie Rudd
Producers: Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Naomi Scott
Executive producers: Paul Rudd, Adam Scott
Director of photography: Sean McElwee
Production designer: Tracy Dishman
Costume designer: Allyson B. Fanger
Editor: Jon Corn
Music: Julian Wass
Music supervisor: Howard Paar
Casting: Alyssa Weisberg
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)

Sales: ICM

89 minutes