In many ways, Bad Moms is a bog-standard throwaway comedy, complete with on-the-nose pop music, overlong riffing, and unnecessary slow motion. It's also impossible not to notice that this is a film made about women by two men, veterans of the Hangover franchise no less. The conflict is notably between two groups of women (Gwendolyn has Jada Pinkett-Smith and Annie Mumolo on her squad) instead of between genders. Instead of being mad at each other and their different visions, maybe Amy's group and Gwendolyn's group could've turned some of that ire on their male husbands or partners, as Lucas and Moore make the very conscious choice to keep all men out of the large PTA scenes.
Despite the perfunctory nature of the filmmaking and some major overlooked conflicts, Lucas and Moore do occasionally break through with some profundity and emotion. Amy gives a resonant monologue to her son (Emjay Anthony) about how much she was crippling him by doing all his homework and shielding him from failure. Amy, Kiki, and Carla are desperate for female friendship, which for Amy and Kiki is the first thing to go when their kids are born while harsh norms of behavior make Carla a pariah. It's never in doubt that they love their children, but they also lament the death of their old lives. Bad Moms is not a nuanced film when it's blasting empowerment pop during Amy's campaign, but a rare contradiction is being communicated here, one that adds depth where little was expected.
For every perceptive or affecting moment in Bad Moms, there's at least one or two other instances that conspire to neutralize any goodwill. Scott and Lucas prefer the quick laugh to consistent characterization. Kiki is portrayed as someone locked in her home with four young children, but she's also well-versed in PTA cliques and politics while being savvy enough to offer advice during the inevitable makeover scene. That scene comes out of a romance Amy has with a widower (Jay Hernandez) who serves as bland beefcake, a character who lost his wife but never says a single word about her in the entire film. Mike is too easy of a villain, nullifying any conflict Amy might've had about cutting him loose. Lastly, Gwendolyn's evil schemes veer into the cruel and illegal, and then result in Amy's daughter (Oona Laurence) bafflingly taking her frustrations out on her mom and not the person who framed her for drug possession.
The script issues are intermittently papered over by some strong comedic performances while others only serve to underline them. Hahn is back in Step Brothers mode as the hilarious, boisterous, take-no-shit Carla, while Bell's exhaustion is successfully played for laughs. Even if she gets jokes that don't make sense for her character, Bell sells each of them with deadpan truth-telling. Applegate has no problem being an alpha-female, and Martha Stewart has a surprisingly successful cameo. On the other hand, Kunis is not well-cast in the lead. She's incapable of looking as unkempt as people keep telling her she looks. The soccer coach that says she's a mess is a liar. Kunis isn't bringing any pathos to her role, unlike Bell and Hahn whose depression and subsequent gratitude are oft-present. Walton's playing his character as an insufferable Napoleon Dynamite, and Hernandez is a non-entity. What works in the cast barely compensates for what doesn't. For each flub, there's an easy fix that simply isn't taken.
Bad Moms ends with a wildly successful credits sequence of the actors lovingly listening to their mothers talking about the many ways they screwed up, and it puts an irresistible bow on the film. The impossible standard so much of the culture puts on women and mothers must be almost suffocating, and good on Lucas and Moore for providing a far-reaching piece of pop culture to puncture that bubble. Thanks to the film's commercial success, I doubt there was much impetus to go back and improve in advance of the looming sequel. It's a shame because there's a great comedy in here, buried beneath the film's readily apparent flaws. C