Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Annie Mumolo, Jay Hernandez, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Applegate
Directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
This film, which has been advertised as the product of the “gratefully married” writers of The Hangover, wants to sell itself as a gift to women. The intention, it seems, is to pay tribute to the daily works and sacrifices that wives and mothers make for their families and to acknowledge how overwhelming and thankless their efforts can be. As well intentioned as this project may have been, it is rather telling that a film about motherhood was made by a predominantly male creative team led by two guys called Jon and Scott. It is strange that this should be the case when there are more female writers and directors working in comedy today than ever before. Yes, the cast is largely female, but that doesn’t mean the film will necessarily be representative of women. Bad Moms is, to say the least, a weak film; one that suffers from many of the same problems plaguing American comedies today. More importantly, Bad Moms is not in any shape or form a feminist film.
Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is a married, working mother who feels overly stressed by her commitments and the pressure she is under. It doesn’t help that her husband Mike (David Walton) barely lifts a finger to help her and that she is constantly judged for her failings by the mothers of the PTA, led by the autocratic Gwendolyn James (Christina Applegate) and her lapdogs Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo). When Amy finally explodes in a loud, public meltdown, she winds up in a bar where she meets the relaxed, sexually-liberal mum Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and the sheepish, stay-at-home mum Kiki (Kristen Bell). The three of them make a pact to abandon the standards expected of “perfect” mothers and take some time for themselves instead. When her new attitude clashes with that of Gwendolyn, the two go to war with one another. Amy thus resolves to run for the PTA presidency and to stand up for all the “bad moms”.
What irritated me about this film was the way it proclaimed itself to be a celebration of motherhood when it didn’t even have the decency to treat the subject as seriously as it deserves. That might seem like a misguided criticism for what is supposed to be a raunchy comedy but I do think it is important for a movie that aspires towards feminism. While there are plenty of mothers today who are able to make ends meet for their children while working full-time jobs, this movie undermines their efforts with a protagonist who fails to be relatable due to her one-dimensionality and stupidity (seriously, who eats spaghetti while driving?). The movie proceeds to divide the mothers into cliques where they display the emotional maturity of fifteen-year-olds as they squabble over such petty issues as bake sales. This movie takes the struggles of white suburban motherhood and reduces them to cheap and inconsequential problems that become greatly exaggerated until they are resolved through the act of letting go and taking it easy. This portrait of motherhood is not just false, it’s utterly patronising.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all I don’t really expect a comedy in the vein of The Hangover to provide me with a deep, honest insight into the challenges and struggles of motherhood. But the idea that this movie was intended as man’s gift for all of those wives and mothers is what stopped me from letting it off the hook. During the credits we are treated to a series of interviews with the six principal actresses (all of whom are mums) and their real-life mothers talking about the challenges of raising children and sharing some of their own “bad mom” stories. We are therefore encouraged to view this movie as being representative of the experiences of real mothers, a grossly misleading notion. While I’m not prepared to state that men are incapable of making feminist films, there is no shortage of mothers working in show business today capable of making the film that Bad Moms could have been (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Sharon Horgan to name a few (heck, Annie Mumolo is an Oscar-nominated writer!)).
Putting the film’s issues with feminism aside, Bad Moms can be pretty funny on occasion, largely because of its talented cast. Anyone who watches this film looking for nothing more than a silly comedy with coarse humour will get exactly that. There was a surprise cameo during a party scene in the middle that got a laugh out of me. Still it surprises me that in 2016 we’re still getting female-targeted comedies that don’t bring enough women into the creative process. I’m not going to pretend that every male-led comedy is inherently sexist or that every female-led comedy is necessarily feminist, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that mothers probably understand motherhood better than most. This movie comes across less as a tribute to motherhood and more as a satire. Even then, it isn’t a particularly good satire. It misses the whole point about the sexist cultural issues that have led to the impossible standards of modern motherhood and instead determines that the problem is with other bitchy mothers. Bad Moms is good for the occasional chuckle but not much else.