Not every movie has to reinvent the wheel in order to be a success. Bad Moms follows a blueprint for comedic storytelling that has been used a hundred times or more throughout the history of cinema, but thanks to terrific performances and a heart of gold the film finds a way to make the familiar feel new once again. It’s not a movie I expect to find the kind of diehard following that embraced similar all-female stories like Bridesmaids, but it is one heck of a good time while it lasts.
The setup for Bad Moms is fairly straightforward: Amy (Mila Kunis) is an overworked and under-appreciated mom stuck in a bad marriage to a man she no longer loves and a crappy job that takes her for granted on a daily basis. She also has two beautiful children whom she loves very much, as well as a spot in the local PTA that eats up whatever time is not already taken by school, her kids’ extracurricular activities, and tasks related to caring for her family. Amy believes she is doing everything she can for her children, but she hits her breaking point at the end of a particularly rough day and decides to become bad. Yes, she literally says she’s going to be a bad mom, and it doesn’t take her long to find two other local mothers—bizarre housewife Kiki (Kristen Bell) and confident single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn)—who wish to join her.
If you cut to credits the moment the film’s title was uttered Bad Moms would only run about fifteen minutes in length. This is a movie that knows what its audience has paid to see and it wastes as little time as possible getting to the naughtiness. But before you go thinking anything truly absurd transpires know these moms play it relatively tame when you consider their actions are written by the same duo who penned The Hangover. Our moms drink, swear, go to a weekday matinee, and begin asking a bit more from the children, all while more or less covering the bare necessities of being a decent human being. There are no drug trips or felonies, nor do you ever once fear for anyone’s livelihood. Bad Moms is not about losing everything, but rather learning to have a little fun while still being a responsible adult.
What is perhaps most surprising about Bad Moms is how it manages to have a decidedly R-rated good time without succumbing to the usual comedic tricks of flagrant nudity, bodily fluids, or slapstick violence. Aside from nonstop profanity and a handful of sex-themed punchlines the actual chaos these moms cause is incredibly tame, like staying out late or having a few too many drinks. That may seem lame to the more adventurous crowd, but that is kind of the point. Bad Moms is not a movie about women who long for far-fetched dreams. It’s a movie about women who feel they no longer have any time for themselves, and their efforts to continue being everything to everyone while remembering who they are. I don’t know a person alive today who cannot relate to that feeling, and it’s in the film’s efforts to explore how people can succeed in balancing those tasks that the real magic of the story is found.
Every character in Bad Moms is essentially a variation on another character from another comedy about three (or sometimes four) friends who lose control on the path to rediscovering themselves, but what makes them work in this film is entirely owed to the cast. Mila Kunis is a fine middle-class heroine and Christina Applegate is a perfectly snooty PTA-ruling control freak, but the real stars of the film are Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn. Bell’s turn in this film is best compared to Zach Galifianakis’ work in The Hangover franchise, if not just a bit more strange, and Hahn has a bravado to her performance that is endlessly amusing. Every line both women utter is hilarious, even if no jokes are being said.
Bad Moms isn’t going to be remembered as a modern comedy classic, but it is an above average comedy that is more intelligent than its title may lead you to believe and is held up by four strong performances from talented women who work far too infrequently. Whether you have a child or you choose to live vicariously through your friends and their kids, there is something in this moving that will have you cackling with unmitigated joy. After a summer of predictable epics, it’s kind of amazing to think a movie about mothers in search of personal happiness could end up being among the best moviegoing experiences of the season. I want more time with these characters, and I have a good feeling you will, too.