'Bad Moms': Film Review

Funny enough, mostly thanks to Kathryn Hahn.

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn star as burnt-out soccer moms in this raunchy comedy from the writers of 'The Hangover.'

Big-screen comedies of late have been crowded with female characters guzzling alcohol and getting dirty on the dance floor, cursing up a storm and causing a ruckus, pooping and punching and playing the field. That the “fairer sex” can now be just as rude and raunchy in movies as men may qualify as progress, but five years after Bridesmaids the novelty’s starting to wear off. There are other ways for women to be funny, aren’t there?

The answer, of course, is yes — though you wouldn’t know it from this new comedy written and directed by The Hangover scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Following a trio of mothers (played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) as they shake off the shackles of domesticity, Bad Moms milks the “women behaving badly” conceit with a single-mindedness that might be depressing if the movie didn’t have an ace up its sleeve: the glorious Hahn, who injects what could have been another insipid studio hack job with a bracing shot of personality.

It’s a pleasure to behold this force of an actress — if you haven’t seen her in Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight and Transparent, stop reading and start watching — hurtle through the film, leaving a trail of perfectly delivered one-liners, and upstaged co-stars, in her wake. Bad Moms is guilty of the usual: a hit-or-miss screenplay, stick-figure characters, lazy direction, drab visuals and a predictably unimaginative vision of what female anarchy looks like (think The Hangover, except with chicks). But Hahn goes a long way toward making us want to forgive the film’s sins; whenever she’s onscreen, Bad Moms is an oasis of dumb fun in this desert of a summer movie season.

Things kick off, as they often do, with a chipper voiceover in which protagonist Amy (Kunis) introduces herself. She lives in a lovely Chicago-area house with husband Mike (David Walton), their two preteen kids (Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony) and an adorable dog. She works at a hip startup. Life is sweet — until Amy walks in on Mike with his hand down his pants and a naked woman purring at him from his computer screen. “I was just checking my prostate,” he stammers before confessing that he’s been having an online affair for a year.

Mike moves out, leaving a harried Amy to juggle the kids, the job, the pooch and all the rest on her own. Making her feel even worse about herself are the monstrous Stepford Moms (Christina Applegate, Annie Mumolo and a wasted Jada Pinkett Smith) who hold court every morning at the parent drop-off area of the kids' school, subjecting their less polished peers to withering looks and passive-aggressive attacks.

Kunis, a skilled and appealing actress, furrows her brow and flails her limbs in an approximation of frazzledness. But it’s hard to buy the husky-voiced beauty as anything other than the cool girl — it’s even harder to buy her as a mother of two middle-schoolers — and, as is often the case with protagonists in Hollywood comedies, Amy’s just not that interesting.

Luckily for us, the two outcasts she befriends are livelier company: sweet-natured goody-two-shoes Kiki (Bell, in fine form) and brazen, blowsy, skimpily clad single mom Carla (Hahn), who catcalls the dads picking their children up from school and barely seems to notice her own lethargic hulk of a son. The three women end up at the same bar one night and, fed up with the pressures of modern motherhood and the judgment of the maternal establishment, forge a pact to be “bad moms.” Cut to Amy, Kiki and Carla trashing a supermarket, in slow-mo, to the fist-pumping strains of Icona Pop’s “I Love It" — one of several sequences that are familiar but executed with above-average flair.

Embracing her new identity, Amy stops making the kids breakfast and helping them with their homework. She meets up for boozy brunches with Kiki and Carla, and resumes once-cherished routines like reading the newspaper with her morning coffee. And she pursues hunky widower Jessie (Jay Hernandez), who ends up lavishing her with the kind of sexual attention she forgot was even possible.

Kiki and Carla’s efforts to help Amy land Jessie yield some of the movie’s biggest laughs. Hahn is the kind of gifted comedienne capable of making you crack up at a stupid line without feeling embarrassed about it (“That’s something Mrs. Doubtfire would wear,” she groans when Amy picks out a questionable outfit for a night of bar hopping), and she and Bell get to perform the movie’s piece de resistance: an extended gag that finds Carla using Kiki’s head to demonstrate how to handle an uncircumcised penis. Don’t ask — but it’s the movie’s sweet spot: funny, weird and bawdy but not derivative.

Carla and Kiki also convince Amy to run against Gwendolyn (Applegate, always a pro), the queen bee of the mean mom squad, for PTA president. To boost her chances, they invite some of the other burnt-out mothers to a meeting at Amy’s house — which, naturally, turns into an all-out bacchanal as women who’ve long been on their best, most matronly behavior finally let loose. We’ve seen similar scenes before, but this one, featuring whippets, mom-on-mom make-out sessions and more, ranks as one of the most infectious.

Part of that is because while Bad Moms paints a rather retro portrait of 21st century women (why do so few of these moms have careers?), its target — the cult of upper-middle-class, more-organic-than-thou helicopter parenting — is ripe, and gives the movie’s chaos a certain raison d’etre. These women aren’t just acting out for our amusement; they’re acting out for their own sanity.

Bad Moms hardly breaks the mold. Despite the genuine streak of wildness Hahn lends the film, the story sticks close to dull-ish Amy, never taking any detours into the daily lives of her more compelling sidekicks. Lessons are learned, normalcy is restored and Amy delivers a cheesy speech (“I’m not a perfect mother, and that’s OK,” etc.) before the PTA. Happily, the movie follows her declaration with an inspired bit in which various other women stand up, each admitting a maternal shortcoming. Try not to giggle when a distraught mom gasps guiltily, “I can’t tell my twins apart!” Ghostbusters may have the right feminist credentials, but Bad Moms, even with its many flaws, is a better time.

Distributor: STX Entertainment
Production companies: STX Entertainment, Block Entertainment

Writers-directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, David Walton, Jay Hernandez
Producers: Suzanne Todd, Bill Block
Executive producer: Mark Kamine
Director of photography: Jim Denault
Production designer: Marcia Hinds
Editors: James Thomas, Emma Hickox
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Costume designer: Julia Caston

Rated R, 101 minutes