Fun Mom Dinner is a remarkable film. Not just because it has a stellar cast (which it does), or because it's hilarious (which it is). What makes it especially significant is that it's a comedy written, directed, produced by, and starring women. And even in a world of Wonder Woman, Rough Night, and Girls' Trip, that remains the exception rather than the rule.
The premise is simple: four moms who seemingly have nothing in common other than their mom-dom decide to blow off some steam by going out to dinner and talking about things other than Dora The Explorer. There's Emily (Katie Aselton), whose relationship with her husband (Adam Scott) is suffering from too many nights spent watching Colbert in lieu of communication; Kate (Toni Colette) the mom who, after four kids, is over the concept of "mom friends"; Jamie (Molly Shannon), who has been through a divorce, and discovered Instagram and Tinder in the process; and then, there's Melanie (Bridget Everett), the mom who is Super Involved in just about every school activity. Though the evening starts off innocently enough, things soon spiral out of control, with a series of events that include Paul Rudd as the owner of a weed shop, and Adam Levine as a hot bartender, which is always nice.
But behind-the-scenes lies a second group of women — also friends — tasked with making the magic happen. We sat down with writer Julie Yaeger-Russ, director Alethea Jones, and producer Naomi Scott to talk about women in Hollywood, why moms are having a moment, and what it's like to work in the same industry as your celebrity husband.
AC: Tell me a bit about how the film came about: how you came up with the idea, and how did it come together?
Julie Rudd: "The genesis of the idea came from my own life, putting my kids in school, and having trepidation about what meeting all these moms were gonna be like. What ended up happening was that the fear was unfounded and I found myself with an amazing group of mom friends. I was really surprised by it; surprised by how close we had become so quickly and how much these friendships had enriched my life. I just had a very simple idea that I would love to make a funny comedy movie that centered on some moms that felt real and celebrated this idea, this feeling of how important friendship is between moms."
Naomi Scott: "Julie wrote such a specific script. Something that really told a story and connected three different women, moms. Alethea elevated it not only visually, but also made it for everyone. Even though the film does a lot of marketing towards moms, and dads, I think there's something for those who aren't parents."
Alethea Jones: "I'm not a parent. I don't have children. When my manager sent me this script, I was like, 'Why do they want me? Is this a general meeting? Do they know who I am?' He's like 'They've seen your stuff and they want you to read the script.' I was like 'I'm not a mom! I don't have anything. Why would they want me?' and he's like 'Just read it because these are special people to work with.'"
AC: How much of the film is based on actual experiences?
JR: "I've woken up with my head on my night table for sure."
NS: "I've stepped on Legos."
JR: "I sing a lot of karaoke. Not gonna lie about it. The fun of it, really, is taking the seed of an idea, of a truth, of something you want to convey, and then the real crackle and fun is inventing a story. Certainly, Naomi and I, in those nascent stages, talked about this could be fun, I feel this, or this has happened to me. We talked to friends and got a bunch of stories. In a way that helped us figure out what we wanted to say and who these women should be, and who we wanted to speak to. Then, the going out to dinner we've all experienced, but what happens to them — we made it up."
AJ: "I really relate to Molly Shannon's character Jamie. I'm divorced, and when I first got divorced I was like 'Why isn't that couple hanging out with me anymore? Why aren't they inviting me to those dinners? That's sad. Have I done something?' and then it was like, 'Oh! We were all married people when we were going to those couples dinners. It's just a group of married people and I don't fit in anymore. Do they not want me hanging out with their husbands?'"
We may be riding a little wave where there are some really amazing female producers and people in Hollywood that are taking a chance on female directors, female producers, female writers."
AC: I feel like moms are having a moment right now in pop culture. There's been Big Little Lies and, obviously, Bad Moms. Why do you think we're suddenly seeing moms blow off steam onscreen?
NS: "I think it takes just one to start getting out there, and then it cracked open opportunities. Also, writers are realizing there's not just one mom movie. There are a number of them. Just like there isn't just one movie about a guy who happens to be a dad. It's just confidence, and also opportunities from financing companies like June Pictures. Obviously, they saw a universality of the story. Truthfully, you just have to have the confidence in doing it. You see one story and you go 'Oh, my story is not the same, but it could be as well-received as that.'"
JR: "I was just thinking also, maybe it's about how there's always this talk of how there's not enough women working in Hollywood. Not enough executives. I think we may be riding a little wave where there are some really amazing female producers and people in Hollywood that are taking a chance on female directors, female producers, female writers. So, naturally, they're telling their own stories or stories that they want to tell. I think we're just seeing it in this moment."
AJ: "It's interesting that you said 'blowing off steam.' That's a really interesting analogy because we've been waiting and banging on the door for a long time. A few years ago, was it the ACLU that was threatening legal action against Hollywood for not including women, female directors? My friends said 'But nothing happened.' Hollywood is a big industry and it takes a long time to shift around. I have seen it slowly happening over the last two years and I keep saying to my friends back in Australia 'It's happening! It's happening. I'm getting a lot more meetings.' So, now, it's really happening. It's been in the works for so long and all of these films that have been trying to get through have suddenly come into fruition."
AC: You have a female writer, director, producer working on a comedy starring women. It's just so rare for that to happen. How do you think it impacts the movie itself?
AJ: "At a script level, looking at tropes that we've seen in other films and saying, 'That really frustrated me when I saw a woman do that. So, let's make sure in our film, that doesn't happen.' We've put a lot more care into our characters and Julie can speak to that, too. Even just on set it was nurturing and collaborative. People have asked me, 'How was Julie on set? What's it like having a writer on set?' and I'm like 'Are you kidding me? She saved my butt so many times by coming up and whispering.' Same with Naomi. I don't have a problem with hearing that and just like we fit into the script. We listen. There's a lot of listening happening and the best idea wins. That was lovely. It was a playful, calm set with encouragement."
AC: I love how the dads don't call the moms when there's an emergency. I fully expected them to be like, 'Interrupt your date and come and save us.' To some extent, would you say this is also a movie about fatherhood?
JR: "Yes! Right from the start, it was really important. I knew the dads were gonna be the B-story because they're home with the kids. I thought what everyone would expect is that the dads are gonna mess the whole thing up; women making a movie would portray the dads as idiots who don't know how to do it. I really wanted not to do that. I wanted them to maybe find themselves in a situation that is thrown at them, but they handle it just fine. They're good guys. Also, I think, what is different about this movie and the dads is that they have real conversations. They talk about real stuff. It's unexpected. Some of those dads scenes [are] my favorite scenes in the movie."
AC: Julie, Naomi, both your husbands star in the film. Kate Miller recently wrote an essay for Refinery29 about how she hates being referred to as 'T.J. Miller's wife.' Since this is a movie about finding your own identity, I was wondering what your experiences, or takes on that were.
NS: "I'm glad she wrote that. I haven't read it yet, but I'm glad. There are times where it's like I'm proud to be his wife, but when you work in the same industry as your husband and you've done things on your own... The other day [on set] I went to get something and on the back of my chair in duct tape it just said 'wife.' It was one of those things because that just fuels me to keep working harder and doing my own thing. Luckily, Adam is super supportive and wanted to be in this movie, but also wanted to be hands-off, knowing that it's something that Julie and I had worked on for a long time. It also fuels you to do your own thing and not listen to people who refer to you as the wife."
JR: "I've certainly gotten very used to it over the years of being Paul's wife. So, this experience, for me, is there was an unexpected joy of some people coming up to me and say 'You are the writer of Fun Mom Dinner!' That's nice. Like I said, it really came at a moment where I really wanted something for myself. I have been 100% super happy to be Paul Rudd's wife, and raising our kids and doing that, but it's amazing that now when I'm ready to do something on my own, it's happening and that this is what is happening. I couldn't be more proud of that."
AC: What do you hope people take away from the film?
NS: "I'm just echoing what I've heard and what I believe, which is that I hope they see themselves on screen and maybe for the first time. Or maybe it's happened before, and it just reinforces that their story is worth telling and making and creating."
JR: "And the importance of friendship. The importance of female friendship in your life is something that should be celebrated, and it's something that all women should make time for. It enriches and makes you a better mom, a better wife, a better person at work when you have the support of really good friends."
"Fun Mom Dinner" will be in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD August 4th.
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