Kathryn Hahn Makes "Bad Moms" A Late Summer Crowd-Pleaser

Three oppressed breadwinners decide they’ve had enough of their paint-by-numbers lives and elect to become their best worst selves: Mike Judge’s “Office Space” or Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s “Bad Moms?” “Bad Moms” wishes it were half as funny or quotable as Judge’s 1999 cult classic, but it’s no slouch either, anchored by a consistently hilarious turn from “Step Brothers” actress Kathryn Hahn and kept afloat by an increasingly judicious screenplay. In other words, you could do worse for your R-rated comedy money. A lot worse.

Mila Kunis (“Ted”) headlines as Amy, a struggling 32-year-old mother of two and the only competent employee at her place of work, an indie coffee company run by a twenty-something blowhard named Dale (Clark Duke). Even more, she discovers that her husband Mike (David Walton) has been carrying on an online affair. The icing on the cake? The stuck-up head of the local parent-teacher association, Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), makes Amy feel like scum every day of the week.

It’s not until Amy meets a few equally eccentric moms after a PTA meeting that she finds a sense of purpose. Carla (Hahn) is a loud, proudly promiscuous single mother with a heart of gold. Kiki (Kristen Bell) is a buttoned-up, subservient stay-at-home mom with an untapped wild side. The three go on to bring out something feral in each other, ultimately walking a fine line between reclaiming their lives and actually living up to the film’s title.

Writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore borrow liberally from their original screenplay for “The Hangover,” lobbing their leads into all sorts of raunchy shenanigans. Much of the film can be boiled down to its logline – moms being outrageous! – but its smarts eventually sneak up on us, belying its dopey ad campaign. A mid-movie monologue delivered by Kunis about the perils of 21st century parenting and entitled kids is clever and cathartic, cutting through the obnoxiously competitive nature of suburban life while making no apologies for a mother’s need to cut loose every now and then.

By the hour mark the film has built up a head of steam – almost enough to make us forget its terrible opening voiceover – with Hahn laying comedic waste to every scene she’s in. Her character’s use of a hoodie to describe the pros and cons of uncircumcised penises is grade A filth, further evidencing that the actress is a hot spring of mostly untapped comic potential. Credit to Lucas and Moore for letting Hahn run wild, but more credit still to the actress for carrying a frequently by-the-numbers comedy.

Kunis remains an uneasy movie star, not inherently likable or unlikable, best utilized as a supporting performer (see: Mike Judge’s criminally underrated “Extract”). But she’s as game as anyone else here, springing wonderfully off her co-stars. Applegate is especially convincing as a villain (ever-flanked by Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo as equally conniving moms), and Jay Hernandez (“Suicide Squad”) is a good fit as a widower with a mutual crush on Amy.

“Bad Moms” may most often evoke latter-day Farrelly brothers (“Hall Pass” is not a good thing to evoke), but with much better casting and an honest-to-God message. Just as it’s okay to not be a perfect mom, it’s okay to not be a perfect comedy. Most everyone is doing his or her best here, and more often than not, it’s enjoyable. And in a world where filmmakers not named Paul Feig have struggled to make good female-led comedies (ahem, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), “Bad Moms” is funny enough to be worth a fist pump or two.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: July 29, 2016
Studio: STX Entertainment
Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Screenwriter: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Christina Applegate, Annie Mumolo, Jada Pinkett Smith
MPAA Rating: R (for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content)