Aug 26, 2016 Film & TV
Put up against the lame Bad Moms, Ab Fab seems even more revolutionary. While Edina’s drug-induced neglect of a young Saffy would earn a visit from CYFS, Bad Moms’ idea of rebellious parenting is alcohol at lunchtime and bringing store-bought doughnuts to a bake sale.
That’s just one of the reasons this new comedy, written and directed by the male duo behind The Hangover movies, is such a snooze. Another is the casting. Mila Kunis is a likeable enough screen presence, but asking audiences to accept her as a harried and unappreciated mother of two preteens is the biggest stretch since Baywatch’s Denise Richards appeared as a nuclear scientist in the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough.
Christina Applegate, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn, three brilliant comedy talents, do their best with a script that veers between pedestrian physical comedy — Hahn using a zip-up hoodie to demonstrate how to wrangle a foreskin is a rare highlight — and eyeroll-inducing sentimentality. The last 10 minutes is like being doused in icing sugar, a cloying cascade of hugs and declarations of parental love topped by a credits sequence in which the stars are interviewed with their real-life mothers. You’ll never guess — they really, really love their moms too.
Behind the enlightened veneer lies a whole host of regressive attitudes.
Despite the banality, it’s cheering to see a mainstream movie in which all the main roles go to women. And the premise that mothers needn’t be so hard on themselves is obviously a laudable one. But behind its enlightened veneer lies a whole host of regressive attitudes, starting with race. There’s a token black sidekick (Jada Pinkett Smith, who gets a handful of lines and no character to speak of) and a surprising number of casually racist one-liners, like an Indian-American mother “ironically” sneering that Kunis “doesn’t even look like she’s from here”.
It’s Bad Moms’ paper-thin feminism, however, that sticks most firmly in the craw. Of the six main female characters, only Kunis’s appears to have a job, which she quits in order to dedicate herself to running for Parent-Teacher Association president. Likewise, it’s hard not to notice that the PTA, like the bake sale and the school gate drop-off, is almost entirely female. Perhaps that’s some creative licence to allow for a fist-pumping finale in which women stand and proclaim their “bad mom” bona fides. But the near-absence of fathers, in this scene and throughout the movie, reinforces the idea that parenting is women’s work. The one decent father, Kunis’s love interest, is treated like a magical unicorn simply because he bothers to take care of his kids. He’s a widower, of course. God forbid a man would actually want to take on the primary parenting role, rather than being forced to by tragic circumstance.
What with the misogynist backlash to Ghostbusters and now this limp crowd-pleaser, 2016 has been a depressing year for female-fronted Hollywood movies.
Perhaps, though, the issue isn’t what’s on screen, but who’s behind the camera. We’ll never know what Bad Moms would look like if it had been written and directed by two women instead of two dudes. But it surely would have been better than this.