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Dustin Putman

Bad Moms  (2016)
3 Stars
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo, Jay Hernandez, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, Clark Duke, David Walton, Wendell Pierce, Cade Cooksey, J.J. Watt, Lyle Brocato, Wanda Sykes, Martha Stewart.
2016 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual material, nudity, language, and drug and alcohol content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, July 25, 2016.
Taking hints of inspiration from 2004's super-smart, Tina Fey-scripted high school satire "Mean Girls," "Bad Moms" follows a trio of women who tire of trying to fit into the judgmental queen-bee clique of middle school PTA moms and carve out their own space as friends challenging the status quo. Frequently hilarious but not without compassion, the film is, at times, a scathingly irreverent glimpse into the demands of 21st-century parents and other times a raucous, steam-blowing free-for-all. Working with a cast of dynamite comic actors, writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (2013's "21 & Over") capture a sure-footed party atmosphere that doesn't merely lose itself in lightweight silliness and poor decision-making. There are definite serious undertones and themes at work here, ones which shrewdly get to the heart of what it means to be a devoted parent even as one struggles to not lose sight of the person he or she was before having children.

From a distance, Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) appears to have it all—a loving family, a beautiful home, a reasonably cushy job at a coffee company—but she is overcome with stress and insecurities. A mother since the age of 20, she feels stretched thin and is always in fear she is failing her pre-teen kids, the overachieving Jane (Oona Laurence) and underachieving Dylan (Emjay Anthony). After discovering husband Mike (David Walton) has been carrying on a 10-month Internet romance, she has no choice but to kick him out. With her marriage in flux and her mounting responsibilities pushing her to the brink, Amy is in desperate need of some personal time. When she befriends a pair of equally lonely and harried parents—married mother of four Kiki (Kristen Bell) and blowsy single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn)—it is the catalyst they all need to start living for themselves for a change.

"Bad Moms" is instantly quotable, a comedy with something memorably outrageous and/or just plain perfectly delivered being uttered in nearly every scene. Not ones to rest solely on these one-liners and ribald situations, Lucas and Moore tell a real story involving characters who feel authentic. At the film's center is Amy Mitchell, sympathetically played by Mila Kunis (2015's "Jupiter Ascending"), busy for every second of every day but without a moment to call her own. She and new pals Kiki and Carla are not exactly complaining—they adore their children and wouldn't give up being mothers for the world—but they do think it might be time to be a little selfish with their time and stop trying to please everyone else around them. This includes iron-fisted PTA president Gwendolyn James (Christina Applegate), who doesn't understand the concept of being a "working mother" and spends her days fastidiously planning bake sales with food absent of dairy, flour, wheat and sugar. When Amy tells her she won't be attending the next PTA meeting, Gwendolyn's reaction is perfection: "That bitch is playing a dangerous game."

Scenes where Amy, Kiki and Carla let loose live fully up to the hilarity they are striving for, helped immeasurably by Moore and Lucas' adept directorial touch and James Thomas' (2014's "Muppets Most Wanted") brusque editing. One such montage where the three of them paint their local grocery store red, blissfully scored to Icona Pop's "I Love It," earns outright guffaws. So, too, do the slyest of line readings, from Kunis and Christina Applegate's (2015's "Vacation") heated, passive-aggressive exchanges to a single line uttered by Jada Pinkett Smith (2015's "Magic Mike XXL"), as Gwendolyn's minion Stacy, that had me laughing for minutes afterward.

In her lead role, Mila Kunis gives Amy a likable, plucky, flawed honesty; even when she's making mistakes, her heart is in the right place. The initial dissolution of her marriage may be treated for a few laughs early on, but when the seriousness of the situation hits her and husband Mike during a disastrous session with a marriage counselor (Wanda Sykes), the finality of their decision proves raw and poignant, as it should. Kristen Bell (2016's "The Boss") and eternal secret weapon Kathryn Hahn (2015's "The Visit") bring distinctive energetic sparks to the very different Kiki and Carla, the former awkwardly and endearingly yearning for human connection with another grown-up and the sexually uninhibited latter happy to simply be accepted by other women. Both characters are so fun one wishes there were longer glimpses into their private lives; while both have their own arcs, they are mostly there to support Amy's narrative.

In supporting roles, Jay Hernandez (2008's "Nothing Like the Holidays") oozes natural charisma as Jessie, the so-called "hot widower" Amy finds herself drawn to, and Oona Laurence (2015's "Southpaw") is winning as Amy's Type-A 12-year-old daughter Jane. It is the endlessly invaluable Christina Applegate, however, who proves the easy standout. She positively slays as the deliciously tyrannical Gwendolyn James, dead-set on retaining her PTA presidency when Amy opts to run against her. While Applegate is the appointed villainess of the tale, she is not a one-note bad guy; one of the appreciable pleasures of the screenplay is its ability to see all the characters in shades beyond black and white. Looks can be deceiving, and so it goes with Applegate's stern, put-together Gwendolyn.

"Bad Moms" is one of the comedic bright spots so far in 2016, a film that understands the importance of tone and the delicate balance between humor and pathos (another recent comedy, the frustratingly uneven "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates," failed precisely for this reason). Without the proper handling, this particular story might have lost itself in irresponsible behavior and juvenilia, but writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore keep their sights on the bigger picture and the roundabout path Amy must take to reclaim her individual identity and the long-missing passions in her life. She, like Kiki and like Carla, are neither good moms nor bad, doing the best they can and hoping their love and values are enough to rub off on their children as they edge toward adulthood. "Bad Moms" is insightful, affecting and enormously funny.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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