Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bad Moms (2016) - Movie Review

As of the last few months, I live with a mother of three little brats between 3-5 years old. Every morning, usually very early on, the screams wake us up and, quite frankly, magic starts to happen. I say that because, for as loud and 'seriously, it’s still too early for this stuff' as they get, their mother shows an almost superhuman level of patience. It is genuinely remarkable to see a mother in her element, as it is most certainly something I could never hope to have the tolerance for at any time. You’ve seen already how badly I react to films I don’t like; you don’t want to see how I am with people of any age who annoy me. But of course, much like their mother, I love those kids just as much as she does; probably helps that what I didn't mention earlier was that the mother that I live with is in fact my mother, and the brats my little brothers. I help out my mother as best I can with them, but it does take a certain natural skill to be able to do this sort of thing day in, day out. It is because of this that, despite a very obvious biological difference between myself and what is meant to be the target audience for today’s film, I somehow get the feeling that I will be able to relate somewhat to how a mother would interpret such a feature. At least, as best as I am capable of doing.

The plot: Amy (Mila Kunis) is a working mother of two who is finding it hard to juggle the various aspects of her life. When president of the PTA Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) manages to get further under her skin, Amy decides that she is tired of trying to be a perfect parent and let go of her inhibitions. After making friends with fellow mothers Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), the three of them become targets of Gwendolyn, whose idealistic approach to motherhood is something that they could never hope, or even want, to attain.

I do love it when well-defined characters are matched with well-defined actors capable of portraying said characters, and this might be one of the best showcases of that I’ve seen all year. Kunis, despite having heard her be a perpetually teenaged girl for so long, works really well as this overclocked but still truly grateful mother. Bell is incredibly ditzy, like Dave Franco in Unfinished Business-level ditzy, but she manages to stay entertaining and endearing throughout the entire film. Yeah, she’s frequently made the butt of jokes, but it never comes across as callous or (as is usually the case with most characters who are meant to be annoying) kinder than she deserves. Hahn is basically the older mother who either gave up on being a mother long ago or just doesn’t care, and my word does she hit it out of the park on this one. Not only does she manage to make the character watchable and likeable, she gives quite possibly one of the biggest displays of badassitude I’ve seen in way too long in a speech she gives near the end of the film. No joke, I actively felt my heart skip a bit as I watched it.

The last film I saw love interest Jay Hernandez in was Hostel, so seeing him be this charming on-screen is a serious change-up; maybe he’s gotten into better material between then and now, I honestly don’t know, but the guy needs to keep up if this is what he is capable of. Oona Lawrence as Amy’s daughter, whom I hope some will remember from her stand-out performance in Southpaw, once again gives a great performance that, for as petulant and stereotypically driven she is, was my favourite of the lot. It probably helps that she got some of the best lines of the film, all of which she gave flawlessly. Applegate is playing a fictional supervillain in almost all senses of the term, and the fun she’s having while doing so translates into a lot of fun for the audience.

Written and directed by the guys who wrote The Hangover (the original, not the horrendous sequels that came after), this film keeps with the Todd Phillips/Judd Apatow comedic style. In that, we’re in line-a-rama “keep the camera rolling while they improvise” territory. However, this manages to hit a chord with that style that hasn’t really been hit in a while now. When the scenes come up, you can clearly tell that the actors are going off-script, but none of them feel like the usual fare where it’s just taking up the running time for little else than laughs. Don’t get me wrong, the laughs are good and plentiful with probably some of the hardest laughing fits I’ve had in far too long, but the actors stay cleanly on track with what they decide to talk about.

The film’s main source for comedy is riffing on the trials and tribulations of the modern mother, with a lot of various archetypes spread out between Amy, Kiki and Carla. As such, the jokes that are made during these times, like when Kiki and Carla list off the various mom groups that Gwendolyn has backing her, always manage to compliment the themes of the actual film. Every other time I’ve seen this used, it’s just comedians reaching for irrelevant laughs; as much as I like the original Hot Tub Time Machine, even it fell into this pattern. Maybe I’m putting too much stock into this and these scenes were in fact all scripted, but even then, more credit to the actors for making it seem so natural for improvisation to be a viable option.

Even with my aforementioned second-hand experience about what a mother goes through in their daily life thanks to their little crotch dumplings, I’m still surprised that I managed to associate so well with the characters in this film. In fact, it got the point where I honestly can’t stand the first 5-10 minutes where Amy is introduced. This is because it reached a weird Uncanny Valley area where it felt too close to the real world to really be funny. And then the rest of the film kicks in and, you know what, I was completely on board. Applegate’s casting as the villain not only works because she just works well with her character, but also because she has had similar experience in this kind of story before. At its heart, this is all about questioning family values, particularly those connected with the matriarchs, how much they end up doing for their families and how much more they think they should be doing.

Something that this film keeps firmly in mind that others like Daddy’s Home failed to is that, not for a single second, do you question the mothers’ devotion to their kids. You feel the strain they are put under the supposed pinnacle of motherhood that is Gwendolyn, and I specified her as a fictional supervillain because that kind of person actually existing in the real world is practically non-existent. You feel their annoyance with their home lives and trying to keep to an unattainable standard, to the point where them just dropping all their responsibilities almost seems like a rational idea. And yet, not only does it really feel like their children are their respective worlds, something amazingly encapsulated in Carla’s epic speech to Amy, but it also shows how a balance between high and low maintenance is possible, and that they should be proud of how they are doing already. I mean, let’s face it: Children of any age are outright terrors, and I still marvel at how much patience my own mother has when dealing with my brothers every day.

So, this is a feel-good raunchy comedy for older women… and here’s where we hit a couple of speed bumps. The first one is how Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have perhaps too good an idea of what their target audience wants to see, meaning that this film will occasionally break up its moments of real-to-life brilliance with Hollywood makes-it-easy conveniences. Hell, Jay Hernandez’ role in its entirety exists solely for the means of fanservice. Now, I can honestly overlook this. I mean, power fantasies exist for pretty much every demographic under the sun, so I see no issue with this film doing the same. Hell, I’d easily direct supposed ‘chick flick’ lovers to this a hundred times over before something like The Choice or Miss You Already or Mother’s Day.

The second point, however, is a little harder to brush past. In fact, the very notion of me even bringing up this point is the kind of thing that people who think the word 'feminazi' is an actual word lose sleep over. Near the end, shortly after Carla’s amazing speech, Kiki says something to the tune of failing and not being there isn’t a job for mothers; it’s a job for fathers. For a film that well and truly had done a good job at being true-blue feminist without any scathing agenda to it, here comes a big helping of third-wave to curdle the milk a bit. Look, I get it: Mothers are great and the literal reason why any of you are around to read this, or me to even write this. But this line, along with how some of the male characters are depicted in this film’s universe, smack of the “we won’t build ourselves up, we’ll just knock you down” mentality that genuinely makes me hate modern-day feminism. But before I get angry responses for any of this, understand something: As I said, it’s a speed bump. This isn’t something nearly as bad as Lights Out in terms of something small that can ruin an entire film; actually, it’s fairly easy to overlook because the rest of it is just that damn impressive. I just bring it up because, other than it being something that just stuck out for me, I didn’t want this review to be entirely positive; I want to be fair, after all.

All in all, for a film I was honestly dreading given how the premise felt way too similar to a film I saw earlier this year, this is amazingly good. As an ode to moms all over, complete with a showcasing of the actual mothers of the actresses during the credits (and yes, this is that rare non-MCU film where you absolutely need to stay for the credits), it does brilliantly because it hits at quite a lot of realistic points about the nature of the work, as it were. This is bolstered by a great cast, great jokes, great overall writing and some really well-chosen music (Christopher Lennertz, you’ve done it again), to make for something that I wish we had more of coming to cinemas: A chick flick that doesn’t mollycoddle or talk down to its audience, but instead treats them like intelligent human beings.

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