Cinematic celebrations of moms tend towards the sappy, pulling the heartstrings with idealized depictions of motherhood that elevate the women to a place on high with unrealistic expectations of perfection and grace. Movie moms are perfect, and we love them so. But the realities of motherhood are so much more complex than most movies are willing to show. Motherhood is a position filled with turmoil, stress, tears, and the occasional bad decision.
That’s kind of a secret we don’t like to discuss. When it comes to moms, we tend to speak in platitudes, calling them “superwomen” without much regard for what that might mean. We shrug it off, culturally, as if to say “keep up the good work” without real acknowledgement of the struggles of motherhood. Bad Moms is a movie that, if nothing else, attempts to celebrate the unseen warts of motherhood, revealing the truth we so often neglect in our societal deification of mothers.
Women get held to unrealistic ideals of perfection, especially when it comes to movies. Most cinematic working moms are still portrayed as the keepers of the household, as if the fight for equality and the right to work amounted to nothing except an unspoken agreement that having a career means women must now work two jobs. They come home with groceries and make dinner, still in their work clothes, with perhaps little more than a knowing sigh to show their stress. But dinner is still served, with a smile, and everyone goes to bed happy.
If Bad Moms can be said to have a thesis, then “fuck that” is the most succinct description.
Mila Kunis plays Amy, your typical suburban superwoman who works and cleans and cooks and takes care of her “third child” of a husband all while dealing with the stresses of raising two actual kids. After she catches her husband having an online affair, Amy goes at it alone. She, along with fellow moms Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), decide they’ve had enough with the idea that moms need always be beacons of perfection and decide to embrace the unspoken ugliness of motherhood. Their act of rebellion culminates into a vicious PTA president election against the uptight Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) as Amy and her friends attempt to push their bad moms philosophy.
When Bad Moms is firing, it’s a hilarious depiction of the realities of motherhood that go so often unaddressed. Amy cries, she struggles, she frets, and she stresses. All of this comes from her struggle to be perfect, to live up to the high standard set by Gwendolyn and her catty cohorts. At times, the film seems to recall a sort of grown up’s Mean Girls as the race for PTA president gets more and more extreme.
Unfortunately, the overall narrative is often a bit haphazard. Like most working moms, the script finds itself in the constant position of trying to balance too many things, quite often at the expense of its own well-being. The film would’ve been better with a bit more trimming of some superfluous subplots; her divorce, for instance, was probably something we didn’t need to see on screen. It played out as a sort of trite sympathy builder and its effects would’ve been similar had it occurred before the narrative began. There’s also a tacked on romance between Amy and a single dad, which makes the film occasionally feel as though it’s trying to appeal the most people it possibly can. It adds nothing of note to the story overall, and often feels like a distraction from the main plot.
Still, it’s easy to overlook the flaws of the film, thanks to the charms of Kunis, Hahn, and Bell. The three represent a broad spectrum of moms and motherhood—Kunis the working professional mom, Hahn the wild and sexy single mom, and Bell the overburdened stay at home mom. As a trio, the actresses have an amazing chemistry that makes the material work even at its low points.
At its core, Bad Moms is a rallying call to reject the idea that moms need to be perfect in order to be good. The superwomen label is all well and good, but we forget that moms are human. They screw up, they stress, the freak out. Maybe looking at our wives and moms as modern day goddesses is the wrong way to go. Perhaps some acknowledgement that women are (gasp) just people would help things considerably. Its title serves not as an advocate for being a bad mom so much as a reminder that, over the course of motherhood, you’re not going to always be great. Looking down on mothers who mess up is counter-productive in the long term, and the sooner we accept that sometimes moms make mistakes, the better off we’ll be.
Bad Moms is in now playing in theaters everywhere.