Moms Gone Wild: "Bad Moms" hilariously naughty but also insightful

Bad Moms (2016)
101 min., rated R.

“Bad Moms” has the courage of its convictions by being exactly the wild crowd-pleaser it thinks it is. It’s uninhibited and naughty, but it's also ticklishly hilarious with the mouth of a sweet sailor and more insightful than its promo would suggest. Nobody needed a newsflash that there could be a gender turning of the tables in raunchy comedies—yes, women can be just as free and crazy as men—although it is still liberating when the women get to be defiant and call the shots. Known forever as “the writers of ‘The Hangover,’” Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (2013’s “21 & Over”) wrote and directed this frisky and fun party romp in which the number of laughs can successfully be counted on more than both hands. This female-driven mix of bawdy humor and maternal empowerment may be predictable from a narrative standpoint, but it’s been made with a heartfelt foundation and such comedic relish that the rollicking misbehaving feels well-earned.

32-year-old Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is an overworked, over-scheduled, perpetually late working mom of two (Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony). While her husband, Mike (David Walton), is a layabout, she is underpaid working for a millennial-run coffee company in Chicago, picking their kids up from school and taking them to their respective after-school activities, having dinner ready and served, attending PTA meetings, and doing it all over again the next day and the next. After an especially long day, Amy is encouraged by tight-assed alpha-mom president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) to attend the PTA meeting at her kids’ school, but she ends up firmly quitting the organization. Amy soon finds kindred spirits in two moms, the brash, inappropriate Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and needy, put-upon Kiki (Kristen Bell). All three of them are sick and tired of trying to be the perfect parent, and once Gwendolyn wages a war against her, Amy plans to bite back by running for PTA president and free every other mom from all the worthless meetings and bake sales. She has no fucks to give.

Even for a raucous R-rated comedy played for laughs, “Bad Moms” is smart and fundamentally truthful when it shows an understanding of how moms give their all each day, sometimes with little appreciation from anyone who isn't a mom. Striving for perfection and being on a busy schedule every hour of the day can be exhausting, so maybe caring a smidge less and cutting loose for a bit isn’t so “bad.” Writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore clearly understand this notion from a male perspective, both being husbands and fathers, and thread the needle well by making sure the three women come off likable from the onset so their behavior doesn’t strike as too infantile and irresponsible. Upon Amy quitting the PTA, she does undergo a swift change. She is too hungover from her obscene acts in the grocery store with her new friends to make breakfast for her kids. She plays hooky from work, talking back to her younger boss (Clark Duke), and instead enjoys a quiet breakfast to herself, goes shopping, takes in a matinee movie with the girls and goes to a fancy brunch afterwards. Basically, Amy is on a vacation from her life, and she deserves it. 

Amy, Kiki and Carla—and Gwendolyn, for that matter—are all recognizable motherly types, but each one of the comedic performers brings a surprise that makes their characters more than two-dimensional. Mila Kunis is the glue, ensuring that Amy feels relatable, sympathetic and flawed, yet never acts below her intelligence. She is too much of a tough cookie to just be a doormat for her cheating dolt of a husband and Gwendolyn. Kristen Bell is always an inviting presence but also gets to be a sneakily daffy delight; it’s especially fun to see her Kiki let her hair down and stand up to her controlling husband. Playing a rebellious mom with the most sexual agency, Kathryn Hahn is the gut-bustingly inspired standout, a wild-card dynamo slaying every tastily dirty one-liner without anything resembling a filter. Like Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids," this role could have been cartoonish, but Hahn finds a decency, loyalty and warmth in the otherwise entertainingly uncouth Carla. As Amy’s counterpoint, Christina Applegate is an acerbic ace, even in an initially one-note role as the catty and calculating but insecure Gwendolyn. Her overly prepared PTA meeting, full of over-the-top PowerPoint presentations, is priceless, as is the final scene between her and Amy that cuts Gwendolyn down to size. In the two roles of Gwendolyn’s mean-girl minions, Jada Pinkett Smith mainly has to follow Applegate but gives good side eye as Stacy, while Annie Mumolo gets to sneak in some sharp asides as the perpetually snubbed Vicky. As the sole male eye-candy who isn’t a cheater or a complete idiot but gets to be objectified, Jay Hernandez is innately charismatic with the little bit he’s given to do as hunky, idealistic widower and father Jessie.

“Bad Moms” is far from being the most attractive-looking film, seemingly shot through gauze and overlit like a sitcom set on the sun, and its story conflict may become strained. However, in the grand scheme of things, those are but small blips when generated laughter is a comedy’s top priority. The game cast’s ready-to-party vibe is so infectious that a montage of the trio’s drunken rampage through the supermarket, cued to Icona Pop danceable “I Love It,” after they first meet proves to be an uproariously funny and expertly edited centerpiece in spite of—or perhaps because of—its broadness. An uncircumcised penis bit goes on long, but the ladies don't beat it into the ground without producing a giggle. The end credits pack a nice touch, too. Instead of the dreaded blooper reel, there is a rather poignant and very amusing sit-down with six of the actresses and their mothers, remembering old times; Applegate’s memory of being taken to 1980’s “Cruising” is a major highlight. “Bad Moms” cannot attest to being wholly subversive, but it has enough of an appealing edge and the genuine belly laughs consistently arrive on schedule. This is what happens when you put a whole lot of funny women in a room and let the cameras roll, and it's saying something when those in charge of the dailies are two men.