Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is not a bad mom. Yes, she’s stretched too thin and she’s always late and and she’s a very bad driver, but she also clearly loves her children and is willing to do absolutely anything for them. In the world of “Bad Moms,” however, that’s simply not enough. Imagine “Mean Girls” for the soccer mom set, and you’ve got some idea of the horrors that await Amy every time she drops off her two kids at McKinley Middle School, an institution ruled by the iron fist of PTA president Gwendolyn James (Christina Applegate).
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s film — the co-writers of “The Hangover,” and the pedigree is obvious — picks up with Amy during a very bad time in her life. Her kids think she’s square, her husband has spent the past ten months engaged in an online affair; she has zero friends, she’s the oldest person at her job by a solid decade and every free minute she has is spent engaging in stupid school functions as demanded by Gwendolyn. Pushed to a breaking point after yet another day spent bad mom-ing it up, Amy makes her big move: She quits the PTA.
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It’s a comparatively low stakes life change, but it’s one that sets into motion a steady stream of bigger changes for Amy, most of them punctuated with a tossed-off F-bomb and a tossed-back alcoholic beverage to make it clear that this is an R-rated comedy, and it’s got the potty mouth to prove it.
Part of Amy’s evolution sees her picking up some equally as out-there mommy friends, including an absolutely riotous Kathryn Hahn as loose-lipped single mom Carla and Kristen Bell as Kiki, a stay-at-home parent who desperately needs to break out of her shell. The three so-called bad moms quickly bond over Amy’s big PTA bust up, sealing their wacky relationship in a no-holds-barred sequence that sees them drunkenly destroying their local supermarket.
Hahn stakes her claim as the film’s MVP early, but her work in the supermarket sequence alone should justify a standalone comedic franchise of her very own. Lucas and Moore’s script tries to inject pearl-clutching bad behavior into nearly every scene, but it’s Hahn that effortlessly marries raunch and heart.
Although the three new friends run wild for a time, Lucas and Moore’s film is charmingly invested in the emotional well-being of both the mothers and their kids. In between raucous mom parties (heavy on the cheap wine) and Amy getting some from a handsome widower who wins her over by telling her that she’s, gasp, a good mom, “Bad Moms” focuses a lot of time on their attempts to get bad behavior back on track. The changes in Amy’s life, as fun as many of them might be, inevitably impact her kids, and when the delightfully deranged Gwendolyn takes aim at Amy’s daughter Jane (Oona Laurence), Amy goes ballistic.
Suddenly, Lucas and Moore’s plot-light and joke-heavy film shifts into a new gear, as the PTA-adverse Amy hatches a plan to oust Gwendolyn and take over the PTA. It’s a strange little plot twist — after all, the inciting incident of the film is literally Amy quitting the organization and feeling all the better for it — but even a film called “Bad Moms” can’t spend its entire runtime chronicling drunk moms accosting security guards in supermarkets or decadently sneaking out to watch a midday movie with their pals. It’s about as close to an actual plot as “Bad Moms” gets, and while the outcome is exceedingly predictable, damn if Kunis, Applegate, Bell and Hahn have a great time getting there, unleashing their comedic chops in increasingly nutso ways (that mom party with the cheap wine? it’s already an all-timer of the genre).
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Like so many other films hitting the big screen this year, from “Neighbors 2” to “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” “Bad Moms” isn’t afraid to let its leading ladies prove that women can behave just as badly as men, and be funny as hell while doing it. While Kunis anchors the film with a solid blend of humor and heart, Applegate and Bell both get moments to show off their comedic skills — Applegate in particular hasn’t been this unhinged since “Anchorman” — while Hahn steals every single scene she’s in, a hilarious ball of pure comedic id.
“Bad Moms” is an outlier in the world of R-rated studio comedies — a female-driven story that doesn’t shy away from bad behavior while also touting the importance of familial bonds and solid parenting choices — and although it often stumbles in service to delivering yet another foul-mouthed joke, its heart remains firmly in the right place. Few films, especially ones that rely on jokes about children rolling tight joints or parents beating each other up at bake sales, are so clearly occupied with delivering gags while also pushing the message that parenting is hard and being an adult takes work.
By the end of 101 mostly amusing minutes of “Bad Moms,” the film smacks a giant bow on that idea, rolling out credits that don’t feature bad bloopers or cut jokes, but interviews with cast members and their mothers. They all center around the idea that being a mom isn’t easy, but at least there are some laughs to be had along the way.
“Bad Moms” opens nationwide on Friday, July 29.
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