For a while, in high school, I was the funny fat sidekick. It's a defense mechanism of sorts, preempting people from laughing at your weight by pointing it out first. It's a way to scream to the world that you're okay with it, even when you are most decidedly not, and it grows old, fast.
It's also a tiresome movie trope, which is why I was so relieved when Fun Mom Dinner chose to bypass it entirely.
After a fun hour and a half spent carousing with Bridget Everett, Toni Colette, Molly Shannon and Katie Aselton, I tried to pinpoint why this movie stood out among the growing number of wild mommy comedies out there. And then it hit me: there were no fat jokes.
Granted, that shouldn't in itself be a reason to see a movie, but thinking back, I was hard-pressed to think of a single film, especially a comedy, in which a plus-size woman's weight hadn't been explicitly mentioned.
Despite what the trailer would indicate, Fun Mom Dinner is more than just Bad Moms meets Rough Night. It's a surprisingly funny film that's refreshingly honest in its portrayal of how women interact when kids are out of the equation. Kate (Colette), Emily (Aselton), Melanie (Everett), and Jamie (Shannon) may have initially come together because they are moms whose kids attend the same fancy pre-school, but they each have their own inner lives that go beyond labels. After four kids, Kate is way past the idea of "mom friends," and only comes because Emily, her former high school best friend, is having marital troubles. After going through a divorce, Jamie is trying to figure out what dating means for a woman in her forties, and discovering Instagram, with mixed results.
It would have been easy for Fun Mom Dinner to use Melanie's weight as an excuse to make her character one-dimensional. Even iconic characters like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect make sure to remind the audience that though they are not a size 0, it's okay because they're funny. If you were to describe their personas, you'd need to mention their weight, because it's a major part of their character.
But this film gives Bridget Everett a chance to shine as more than just a plus-sized mother of 3. Is she overly aggressive as the volunteer school crossing guard? Sure. Can she break your arm if you're harassing her friend at the bar? Definitely. But she also contains multitudes: she's funny, yes, but she's also caring, open about her sex life, and she slays at karaoke. The filmmakers didn't choose to hide her in a shapeless muumuu — rather, she's rocking a form-fitting jewel-toned blue dress. With cleavage. And at no point does she, or anyone else crack a fat joke at her expense.
For director Alethea Jones, part of the appeal of working on this film was to bypass the tropes that bothered her in other movies about women.
"This was a film written, directed, and produced by women," she said. "We're not interested in those stories. In fact, we're sick of those sorts of stories and jokes. We just wanted to get on with it. Likewise with casting Molly Shannon in her role as a single mom who's exploring dating and loves taking Instagrams. The obvious thing to do is take a younger woman, like in her thirties, but I [made] a conscious choice there with her, to [give] someone who is not thirty an opportunity to be the single one who gets the love story."
Fun Mom Dinner isn't perfect: there are no major characters of color, and in a strange choice by the creators, none of the mothers appear to work full time. But it's an example of the small changes with huge impact that can be wrought when women are put in charge of their own narratives. And on behalf of all teenage girls who feel the need to put themselves down in self-defense, we need more of that.