Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 26, 2016)
Back in 2011, Bridesmaids made nearly $300 million worldwide and demonstrated that an audience for female-focused “R”-rated comedy existed. Since then, I can’t say that the genre has flourished, but every once in a while, lightning strikes.
Which leads us to 2016’s Bad Moms, an “R”-rated comedy that didn’t equal Bridesmaids profits but that still managed to become a decent box office hit. Directed by the guys who wrote The Hangover, Bad Moms introduces us to Amy (Mila Kunis), a woman who seems to enjoy a fulfilled life.
Despite appearances, though, Amy feels overwhelmed by all the pressures she experiences. When her husband Mike (David Walton) cheats on her and other matters escalate, Amy cracks and decides to stop worrying about maternal perfection.
Joined by isolated stay-at-home mom Kiki (Kristen Bell) and slutty single parent Carla (Kathryn Hahn), Amy embraces this newfound freedom. Amy’s behavior rubs uptight, fascistic PTA head Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) the wrong way and pits the pair against each other when Amy tries to take over leadership of the school organization.
When I saw the relative commercial success that Moms enjoyed, I felt surprised, as I thought the movie sputtered at the box office. Granted, movies meant for mothers don’t normally hit my radar, but I still didn’t realize it found such a sizable audience.
Maybe I just blocked out Moms because it reminded me too much of 2014’s lackluster Moms’ Night Out. That effort came with an unusual bent: while technically in the “wild and crazy” Bridesmaids vein, Night Out aimed for a Christian audience, so it lacked the profane debauchery of the Hangover franchise.
No such limitations greet the “R”-rated Bad Moms, so one might anticipate a raucous affair. One would expect incorrectly, though, as the film seems extremely reluctant to let its freak flag fly.
Back when I reviewed Bridesmaids, I noted that although the movie earned a name as a so-called “gross-out” comedy, much of it hewed closely to standard “chick flick” conventions. While parts of Bridesmaids went very broad/profane, a lot of it seemed pretty standard for the genre.
That trend becomes even more dominant during the oddly restrained Bad Moms. The movie earns its “R” due to profanity and one scene with full-frontal nudity, but the rating barely seems to fit – I get the impression a little looping and editing would’ve easily allowed the producers to make this a “PG-13” affair.
The same wouldn’t have been true for Hangover, and it surprises me how tame so much of Bad Moms feels. As noted, the writers of Hangover lead the way here – they made a name for themselves via the extreme material found in that 2009 hit, so why not follow that theme again?
I admit it feels odd to argue that Bad Moms needs more Hangover-style material, as gross-out comedy has never been my thing. Hangover gave me mild entertainment and a few laughs, but it wasn’t a flick whose wide appeal made sense to me.
At least Hangover went its own way, though, whereas Bad Moms feels like a compromise. I get the impression the filmmakers wanted to appeal to the female audience and maybe lure in some men with the promise of Hangover-like bawdiness, but they worried they might offend the target crowd so they neutered the end product.
That leaves Bad Moms as a comedy without much verve or life. It probably doesn’t help that 2015’s Sisters offered a superior “R”-rated female-oriented comedy only half a year before Bad Moms - and did so in a much more satisfying manner. Like Bridesmaids, Sisters seemed reluctant to fully embrace that “R” rating, but it still managed a lot of laughs.
One key difference between Bridesmaids/Sisters and Bad Moms: their casts. The first two boast actors who come from comedic backgrounds, with an emphasis on improv and sketch comedy.
Bad Moms doesn’t go that route. Instead, it features actors who’ve done comedies but it doesn’t focus on women who really would be called “comedians”.
Perhaps that shouldn’t matter, as Kunis, Applegate, and the others all have talent. Ultimately, I think the difference between actors like Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig vs. the crew here does influence the final product.
I think Bad Moms needs performers with more ability to go off-script and shoot for the humor that may not exist on the printed page. Let’s face it: when one thinks “comedic leads”, Kunis and Bell probably aren’t the first to come to mind.
Again, I don’t intend this as a criticism of the cast, as it includes a nice allotment of performers – I can’t find anyone I’d call untalented. They just don’t fit the film, as they seem to lack much ability to add zing to the fairly tepid material.
Bad Moms does include a few actors with clearer comedic backgrounds – primarily Hahn and Annie Mumolo. The filmmakers seem to understand this so they lean on Hahn and Mumolo for many of the movie’s more outrageous moments.
This doesn’t work, mainly because those characters feel gratuitous. In particular, Hahn seems like someone from a completely different movie.
While I appreciate the attempt to offer a mom who differs from the semi-Stepford feel that greets most of the women, Carla provides a wholly artificial, contrived creation. Hahn plays her in the broadest, goofiest manner possible, as if she wants Carla to be her breakout Melissa McCarthy/Zach Galifianakis role. I like Hahn, but she tries way too hard, and this makes the ill-fitting character even less effective.
Whereas I admit I didn’t expect much from the aforementioned Moms’ Night Out, I actually thought – and hoped – that Bad Moms would offer real amusement. It doesn’t. The movie comes with a smattering of minor chuckles but seems much less clever and energetic than it needs to be to achieve its goals.