Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bad Moms

4/4

Starring: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate, Jay Hernandez, David Walton, Jada Pinkett Smith, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, Annie Mumolo

Rated R for Sexual Material, Full-Frontal Nudity, Language Throughout, and Drug and Alcohol Content

It is ironic that in this day and age, the more connected we get, the more stressed out we are.  We see what everyone else is doing and we feel that if we don't keep up, we're not good enough.  To gain the extra edge, we have to do more and more and get better and better at it.  It's an understandable, if ridiculous, feeling.  I suppose no one understands that more than your average working mom.  They're expected to do everything and be everywhere while still working enough to put food on the table.  Sounds impossible?  Imagine how hard it is to live it.  Two of my best girlfriends have children of their own, and it's hard to imagine doing it at all (and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them).

Despite asking me many times for reassurance, my mom did a great job raising me.  Unlike the majority of parents in this film (and in real life), my parents haven't split up, so I have to give my dad credit too.  They spent time with me and my brother; driving us to activities or friends' houses, coming to our sporting events or field trips whenever possible.  Hell, they'd give us a "Mike Day" or a "Martin Day" where they would spend the whole day doing whatever me or my brother wanted to do.  Until school became too important, my dad would take us out of school one day each summer to go to Six Flags.  Did they do it all?  Of course not.  Did they make mistakes?  Yes, such as showing me movies I wasn't ready for ("The Jackal" comes to mind).  They also were willing to put their foot down when they needed to (bullying and ridiculous amounts of homework were their pet peeves, not to mention my own).  Most of the other parents that I knew were the same way, but there were those few...

Amy (Kunis) is stressed out to the max.  She's had her kids since age 20 and has essentially been raising them herself since her husband is a slobby layabout.  After she catches him having some private time with an internet skin queen, she throws him out of the house.  But that makes her even more stressed.  School, work, Mandarin lessons, soccer practice, and of course, the PTA meetings led by Gwendolyn (Applegate), the Type-A soccer mom from hell.  And she does it all without any thanks or recognition.  In her words, the only thing she's good at is running late.  After she is volunteered by Gwendolyn to police the items for the bake sale because she was five minutes late to the PTA meeting, something inside Amy snaps.  She refuses and simply quits the PTA, much to everyone's horror.  At a bar getting a drink to unwind or wallow in her sorrows (probably both), she meets Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Bell), other moms who are similarly stressed.  They end up getting drunk and having a little fun for themselves.  They realize that what they need more than anything is release: release from the stress, release from the desire for perfection, release from the expectations to be perfect.  Their embrace of their flaws and picking and choosing what and what not to care about wins them many followers, and eventually gets Amy to run against Gwendolyn for president of the PTA.  Gwendolyn, the "Miss Perfect" that she is, takes this personally, and won't let some hard-partying upstart take away her power.

Going into this movie, I didn't have high hopes.  I was hoping for, at best, some crude gags and cheap laughs.  But I was preparing myself for another riff-fest, like the horrid "Ghostbusters" reboot, the unwatchable "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" or, God forbid, "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising."  I was pleasantly surprised.  This is an excellent movie, and guaranteed to end up on my Top 10 list this year.  The film contains one big laugh after another.  And not those subconscious, internal laughs like in indie flicks or "classic" comedies.  No, these laughs are explosive belly laughs.  The term "laugh til it hurts" applies.

One reason is that it contains a real script.  Improvising, if there is any, is kept to a minimum.  There are one or two times where the jokes go on a little too long, but were talking like 5 seconds that are still funny.  This movie makes its point (most of which are insightful and on-target) and moves on.  Another is that the film was cast with actresses, not stand-up comics.  While none of these actresses has great range (the exception being Jada Pinkett Smith who is underused, but is in so few movies that even seeing her on screen is cause for joy), they understand how to create a character worth caring about.  There's more to playing a comic character than timing or one-liners, and the women populating this film know that.  There were times when the audience I was with, myself included, started cheering wildly for the characters.  I haven't done that in a long time.  Finally, it has insight.  Sure, it may be crude, rude and bawdy, but it has a point of view and the humor comes from the situations and the feelings that develop from the characters.  Amy, Carla, Kiki and even Gwendolyn feel like real people.  The script and the actresses do a good job of making us understand where they are coming from and why they feel that way.

None of the performances are crying out for Oscar attention, but that doesn't mean they aren't effective.  Mila Kunis has little range as an actress, but she understands how to get a laugh and pull off a haggard character, and that's what this role requires.  Kunis rarely gets a role she can excel in, but that's what happens here.  Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell (taking a rare supporting part) are mostly on hand for comic relief, but they don't slum for cheap, easy laughs.  They create characters that are more than spouts for punchlines.  Christina Applegate, friendly in real life, has no problem playing the bitch.  It would have been too easy for her and the filmmakers to make her another Momzilla, but like the rest of the film, Gwendolyn isn't played too broadly.  Also worth mentioning is Jay Hernandez, playing Jessie, the hunky widower with the hots for Amy.  He doesn't have a lot of scenes, but he's good enough to get us invested in their relationship.  And boy, does he ever look the part!

The film was directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote the "Hangover" movies.  These two guys are really funny!  Anyone can do a raunchy comedy with loads of sex, nudity and bodily fluids, but these two understand that you have to do it with wit, timing and finesse.  That's what separates them from Seth Rogen.  They know that comedy always comes from an area of truth.

Is it a perfect movie?  Like the people it depicts, no.  Some of the stuff is a little absurd and one speech gets a little preachy, but that's okay.  I didn't care.  And while the interviews with the cast and their moms seem a little like a PSA, they're funny and sweet enough to be worth it.

"Bad Moms" may seem like a chick flick or "Moms' Night Out" with no religious bent and an R rating.  Let me reassure you, dear reader, it is not.  In fact, this is a movie for everyone because it calls out our culture for what it has become: neurotic and stressed to the point where we can't just...live!  In that way, it's an important and extremely entertaining movie.  This is one of the best films of the year.


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