Bad Moms Is Bad

This year has seen a slew of great femme-driven comedies, but this isn’t one.

The thing I hate most about Bad Moms isn’t its relentless crudeness, or its waste of talented actresses, or the way it hides bland middlebrow homilies in the naughty wrapping paper of an R-rated Girls Gone Wild premise. No, the thing I hate most comes during the end credits, where bad movies usually stash the blooper reel. No outtakes here; instead we get a mini-documentary of the film’s actresses—out of character—filmed with their real-life mothers. On its own, the segment has charm, and I assure you that I take great personal comfort in knowing that these successful women have mothers who are proud of them. But the segment serves no purpose, except to provide another way to soften the outlines of an allegedly edgy comedy.

You didn’t see this kind of crap at the end of the Hangover pictures. And not coincidentally, Bad Moms is written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote the first Hangover movie. They aim for a similar tone here, as three suburban Chicago moms rebel against their overly responsible lives with a few explosions of bad behavior. They are played by Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell, and whatever the felicities of these actresses, I never quite believed they would actually hang out together—the chemistry doesn’t ignite as it does with the cast of the new Ghostbusters, for instance. In any case, no more helicopter parenting for these three: They get drunk, blow off work, and even force their kids to make their own school lunches. Along with the partying, Kunis’s character (separated from her sluggard hubby) gets something going with a new guy (Jay Hernandez). He is, of course, funny, handsome, and a great, great dad. Uh-huh. She’s really gone wild.

The film has some funny moments, mostly courtesy of Hahn, a dangerous actress and a truly disruptive presence. She is terrific in tiny cameos or big parts (she’s the whole show in Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight, a tour de force performance), but as the wildest of the central trio here, she can’t get far enough off the leash. Christina Applegate lends her keen comic instincts as the movie’s villainess, a PTA chairperson who thinks nothing of ruining the lives of children to consolidate her power at school. (Her own kids are named Blair and Gandhi.) Our trio has one inspired conversation about sex with uncircumcised men, acted out with Kristen Bell in a hoodie—a sequence that might be funnier if it didn’t feel as though it had been hatched with the idea of creating an instant water-cooler scene that will shock (but not too much) the multiplex audience.

Bad Moms thus falls to the bottom rung of the recent comedies that dare to suggest that women are funny, a topic that has come up in recent years (after decades of movie history in which women were demonstrably hilarious) because sometime in the 1980s Hollywood decided that the boy audience needed to be its primary target. Just this month, the similarly rude Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has the virtue of making no big deal of the way its sophomoric hijinks are equally divided between male and female, and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie unabashedly trashes propriety with debauchery that Bad Moms can only imagine. As for Ghostbusters, its zippy high spirits demonstrate how big Hollywood comedies can feature women who don’t have to be as crass as men to succeed.

Those movies also trump Bad Moms because they don’t try to have it both ways. The thing that really sticks in the craw about this film is that it gets sanctimonious during its pageant of naughty behavior. It keeps telling us that there are too many regulations about children and schools, and that these kids today are too entitled, and that parents who fix homemade kale salads for school lunches instead of buying takeout at Arby’s are buzz-kills. Bad Moms wants to be a little manifesto of our age, and not merely a laff riot. I’ll take Kate McKinnon and a proton pack over this baloney any time. ■