“Kristen’s final scene is her husband pushing the pram on the school run while she smugly sips her overpriced-product-placement drink.”
‘Oh I don’t have any friends,’ bad mom Kristen Bell says. Christina Applegate creates a bake sale police force. Kathryn Hayn teaches us how to handle an uncut one using a hooded jacket wrapped around Kristen Bell’s face. And so it begins…Bad Moms in the cinema on a Tuesday night.
Before the film starts, my sisters, my mum and I spend a good twenty minutes deciding what snacks to buy. The man behind the counter has never encountered our Fox Force Five and is making the most of this opportunity to release all of his witty repertoire on our hyperbolic decision making. It’s like a scene from Gilmore Girls with five Lorelais. I eventually select a hot chocolate, popcorn and ice-cream and somehow end up paying for my sister. We have to sit at the back I insist: the screens are small. The witty man takes offence. This is our biggest screen, he insists. I look at him doubtfully and he concedes. Yes, you should still sit at the back.
There’s no-one in there when we arrive so of course we have to embark upon a good twenty minutes of selfies in front of the cinema screen. More photographs were taken than I had in the Blue Mountains, and possibly more than in my entire trip to Japan.
Can I eat my ice-cream now? It’s melting!
The trailers arrive, and so do a few other females. There’s one male in the entire cinema, with his girlfriend. Apparently Andi Zeisler’s reveal that Hollywood hates movies about women because men won’t watch them is scarily true. Even a film with Mila Kunis and two women kissing in the trailer. My sister and I embark upon a see-saw where every trailer I love, she hates and vice-versa. This may be the only film we see together all year. Bless films about women for allowing me to spend time with my mum and sisters.
It starts off terribly.
I am pre-disposed to hate it because it’s by a male director. This is something I am a little obsessed about now because Zeiler also told me how sexist Hollywood is when it comes to female directors and screenwriters. Plus there’s the precedent set by every other film I’ve seen this year with mother or daughter in the title. There’s the typical unrealistic body shapes; and there’s the nice suburban house with fifty computers; and there’s the hot muscle man; and there’s the substandard father who is cheating on his wife in his office while she puts the kids to bed. This last scene lacks any substance or inquiry into what this does to Mila’s self-esteem. Male director, I whisper to my sister. Later, I let it go because I guess the character had to be a 2D Dad so we wouldn’t question Mila’s ability to move on from the father of her children about an hour later. The message is clear: this man isn’t likeable. Move on.
And then there’s the typical scenes of spaghetti landing in Mila’s face; her body getting tackled to the ground; her wing mirror falling off. A hearty portrayal of all the ways motherhood is like living in a Laurel and Hardy movie.
But then, something happens. The film becomes funny. And even sort of meaningful. In a paddling pool sort of way. Perhaps it is being with my family laughing. Perhaps it is thinking about it from my mum’s perspective. Perhaps it is that I’ve eaten both ice-cream and popcorn because I couldn’t choose. Or perhaps it is just actually funny! Like an actual real-life, substantial comedy. There’s a fantastically fun party I want to dive into the screen and join. There’s tit bashing (when did that become funny?). We come out buzzing, quoting lines, laughing at ourselves and feeling, dare I say it, a little bonded. I imagine what it would be like for us all to have children. How strange it would be. How sad it would be to not have each other. How much I’d have to tell them to butt out.
The message of the film is to celebrate our flaws and weaknesses as mothers and women. There’s a refreshing absence of non-moms judging moms. There’s a focus on how much your children’s successes and failures are tied so completely to your self-esteem. Sort of like constantly acing and failing exams. One confesses she took drugs off her son then smoked them for breakfast; another that she hasn’t bathed her children in three weeks. And so while yes a lot of it was run-of-the-mill humour and stereotyping and about half of the screenplay was probably written for what men would like, it was hard to argue with a film that actually presents perfection (symbolised by Christina Applegate) as unattractive. Though of course it helps if you’re imperfect but you look like Mila.
The film didn’t escape my usual soap box tirades and once again it’s the portrayal of men I had the most gripe with. I am becoming a masculinist (The Mask you Live In has set me off). The muscle man who Mila miraculously replaces her husband with quicker than I can finish my popcorn is the charming, hot stereotype who can lift a woman and throw her on the kitchen counter. Good for him. Then there’s the original husband who is so unbelievably useless he’s a caricature of everything you’ve ever heard wives complain about in their husbands. He’s lazy. He’s unaware. He’s an idiot. He’s a cheat. He’s manipulative. He doesn’t accept responsibility. He does nothing around the house. He praises his wife in couple’s counselling for her cooking skills and he can’t count to three.
And then we have Kristen Bell’s husband who is useless with the children and expects his wife to do everything, including coming home from lunch with her friends because it’s her job to be with their children during the day. Yes this is infuriating and yes this does happen. But the resolution for it is role reversal. Kristen’s final scene is her husband pushing the pram on the school run while she smugly sips her overpriced-product-placement drink. Oh no. He’s forgotten something in the car. Does she run back and get it for him in the spirit of equality? Here audiences: behold a full-functioning supportive-of-each-other couple.
Nope. It’s the dad’s job to go back too- with the pram. Quick quick she snaps and sucks on her straw. How is that a resolution? It’s not something to celebrate. A role reversal of something negative is still negative.
It got me thinking about the number of happy couples I’ve seen on screen who are parents and are a team. An imperfect but overall functioning team. Definitely not The Simpsons. Who do we look to in pop culture and say: they’re a great team? That’s what the nuclear family is all about. I’m struggling. Is that because it’s so unrealistic? Is parenthood just a battleground with your partner?
Perhaps I need some perspective. It seems unwise to judge the nuclear family based on a film involving a penis jacket…