Bad Moms Is A Really Bad Movie About Parenting

In case you've missed the tabloid headlines: Mila Kunis is a mother now, nearly two times over. But unfortunately, that rite of passage doesn't appear to have prepared her to play a parent on the silver screen. Bad Moms isn't just a bad movie: Its leading lady also seems to have been severely miscast in her role. (Warning: Spoilers to follow.) Kunis plays Amy, a thinly-stretched thirtysomething mother with two kids — one a highly anxious overachiever and the other a stereotypical slacker in the making — who also happens to be married to an overgrown man-child who doesn't seem to notice that she's managing the entirety of their family affairs.

Bad Moms
begins with Amy running around like a crazy person, trying to get her kids to school on time, and winding up with spaghetti all over her trouser suit before ultimately dragging herself to a PTA meeting. The PTA — which, in this film, is painted as a sort of fascist regime run by a single mean girl mum, Gwendolyn (portrayed by the fabulously funny Christina Applegate), and her two harpies — is getting schooled on all the things that can't be a part of the upcoming bake sale (namely: sugar, gluten, GMOs, fun, etc.) when Amy finally decides that damn it, she's had enough. She won't be taking this shit anymore. Amy stands up to Gwendolyn and walks out of the meeting, with the pasta sauce in her hair somehow looking more like smoothing serum than dried tomato paste. She manages to gain an acolyte in the process: Kiki, played by Kristen Bell, a stay-at-home mum of four whose whole life revolves around her kids and her micro-managing husband who, we fast find out, can't get hard but toes a hard line.

After spending all this time trying to make being a mom look hard, it wraps up by showing us that it can be so easy, if only women would just calm down.

Bell manages to glow even in the midst of a consistently crappy script, but it is Kathryn Hahn who steals the show and somehow makes shit shine. As Carla, Hahn is the crass comic relief to Kunis' hollow performance, and her portrayal is the only one with any real heart. Clad in bargain bin-type apparel, she's already at the bar tossing back shots when Kiki and Amy bail on the PTA meeting and walk in. The three women wind up getting wasted together and decide that they're going to fully indulge "bad mom" mode. For them that means shooting whiskey, staying out late, and generally letting the things they would normally obsess over slide. By the end of the evening, Amy is transformed, and their little drunk trio has become a tight-knit clique. Amy — who becomes single after finding out her husband has been having an affair on the internet — decides that she's going fully rogue, allowing her kids to make breakfast for themselves (ooh!) and forcing them to do their own homework instead of doing it for them (ahh!). And of course, herein lies one of the huge problem with Bad Moms: what it assumes about good mothers and how they micromanage family life.
"Good moms", in this film, which was written and produced by the male duo behind such films as Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, plays into an imaginary dichotomy where "good moms" are women who don't have sex, don't have fun, and put their children's needs at the centre of their existence at all times. In contrast, "bad moms" are those who go out, let loose sometimes, allow their kids to sink or swim and experience the consequences, and stand up for themselves. It's an insulting portrait of motherhood — of parenthood in general — that amplifies the general mum-shaming trend that has beset us in recent years. To make matters worse, the low-hanging laughs that Bad Moms reaches for are barely titter-worthy. The scene in the trailer where Amy's friends are shocked that her "sexy bra" is boringly functional? That's about as funny as the film gets. Dialogue alternates between lowbrow humour and platitudes about the perils of helicopter parenting, with intercuts of Kunis hugging her deeply awkward kids, looking more like their beautiful babysitter than a woman who birthed them.

It's an insulting portrait of motherhood — of parenthood in general — that amplifies the general mom-shaming trend that has beset us in recent years.

But the lowest point is when Amy — clad in sheer nylons and a self-referred "slutty" dress she once wore for Halloween — hits the town with Carla and Kiki so that she can wipe the taste of her cheating ex from her palette and get laid. She mothers the men at the bar, scaring them off one after the next, until — lo and behold — a hot dad from school walks in and sweeps her off her feet. Jessie (Jay Hernandez) is a sexy widower who is apparently ready to get back out there, and all it takes is for him to tell Amy that she's a "good mom" before she pounces on him at the bar. They get busy, which I think we're supposed to interpret as Amy officially reclaiming her mojo. That ultimately translates to her running against Gwendolyn for the PTA presidency — and to liberating the other women from the tyranny of trying to be a perfect mother. In the end, a considerably more relaxed Amy — less one loser husband and plus a major dose of self-confidence — drops her kids off at school, leisurely waves at her former nemesis, and huddles up with her new besties, who have learned their own mum lessons along the way. The moral of this story, it would seem, is that there are no "good moms" or "bad moms": There are just mothers, striving to do the best with what they have, and still trying to retain a sense of self beyond the realm of parenthood. There is some truth to that cliché, but not even that message can save Bad Moms from ringing overwhelmingly inauthentic to modern parenthood. After spending all this time trying to make being a mum look difficult, it wraps up by showing us that it can be so easy, if only women would just calm down and realise what's really important. It's oversimplification at best, and a patronising moral that modern mothers definitely don't need, even in comedic form, at its very worst.
Bad Moms is in UK cinemas now.

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