I didn’t think I’d be able to squeeze in a trip to the movies this week but managed to fit Bad Moms in at the last minute yesterday and I’m so happy I did. I didn’t take a second to make any notes yesterday though, so I’ll be breaking this down from memory (which I do all the time). The longer you let a movie simmer in your brain like that, the more you start rewriting it in your head and while this is a fun movie, there were some issues in the script that it’s surprising no one caught though I understand why it happened. We’ll get into that later on, for now, let’s break this script down.
Bad Moms is a 2016 American comedy film directed and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. The film stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Annie Mumolo, Jay Hernandez, Jada Pinkett Smith and Christina Applegate.
Logline: Amy Mitchell is a married woman with children who feels over-worked and over-committed. She and two other stressed moms embark on a quest to liberate themselves from their household responsibilities for leisure. As always, be warned that I’m about to ruin the movie for you if you haven’t seen it. Also, there were a lot of little beat scenes in this movie, I’ll be focusing on the major, central storyline beats and how they drive the protagonist’s emotional arc.
Protagonist: Amy Mitchell
Want: To be a “bad mom”
Need: To go easier on herself; be a little selfish once in a while
Inciting Incident: Amy catches her husband Mike cheating on her and has the worst day ever trying to keep up with everything after kicking him out of the house.
First Act Decision: Amy goes to a PTA meeting at the end of the day from hell, where Gwendolyn is laying on the fear-mongering thick regarding the bake sale. Amy bolts with two other moms, Kiki and Carla, and after a lot of drinking they decide to be Bad Moms.
Progress: They go to the grocery store and wreak havoc.
Reversal: Amy learns her husband is staying with woman he cheated with and decides she needs to get laid. She and the girls go out and it turns out she has no clue how to date. It ends with her kissing a fellow parent from school (a widower) though she hasn’t determined what to do about her relationship.
Midpoint: After Gwendolyn gets Amy’s daughter benched on the soccer team, Amy decides to run for PTA president.
False Climax / Low Point: Everyone ditches Gwendolyn’s election party for Amy’s and it looks like she’ll easily win the election. Gwendolyn puts joints in Amy’s locker, getting the overachieving Jane removed from all extracurricular activities. Amy’s kids decide to go stay with their dad, devastating Amy. She then goes to work and loses her job.
Third Act Decision: Carla and Kiki run to Amy to take her to the election and convince her that she needs to keep fighting against Gwendolyn.
Climax: Amy goes to the PTA election and declares herself a bad mom. Other moms chime in that they are the same and Amy wins the election. Afterwards, she has a heart-to-heart with Gwendolyn to help her get over the loss and find some common ground.
Resolution: Amy gets her job back with a better salary, her kids are perfectly well-adjusted, she has a hot boyfriend, and Gwendolyn is taking her and the girls wherever they want in a private jet.
This movie was very cute and definitely the “love letter to wives and mothers” that writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore that they intended. It will be a big repeat runner on cable because there are some seriously fun moments in it and the characters are relatable.
The problem is that in writing a love letter to their wives, the writers were afraid to push them to an actually bad place. There’s nothing wrong with Amy. She decides she wants to be a “bad mom”, which isn’t a tangible decision but we’ll ignore that because I was laughing (as I’m sure most people were) and enjoying the ride. If you make a decision like that, push your protagonist to a self-destructive place. The writer/directors tried. Amy goes against her daughter’s wishes. She forgets to make her kids lunch and they figure it out on their own. She shows up to the bake sale selling store bought goods, blah blah blah. The worst they do is have a huge party that looks like a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that these guys wrote a movie about the hell the world puts mom’s through and they wanted it to be relatable, but they also wrote another comedy about three dudes who go to Vegas for a bachelor party (which is totally relatable) and wake up next to Mike Tyson’s tiger (less relatable).
The first tangible decision comes at the midpoint when Amy is going to take the power away from Gwendolyn and the other “perfect” moms. Here’s a perfect opportunity that could’ve taken this script in a really fun direction: make this the first act decision. If Amy’s goal had been to lead a Bad Moms-revolution by way of taking over the PTA, they could’ve really shown these women in all their glory. They would take things to such an extreme they could be self-destructive and then end the movie finding a middle ground being the selfless parents that they are and confident women who need a hell of a lot more well-earned “me” time.
Amy doesn’t really change. Her declaration at the beginning is the same at the end, the only difference is that now more people are listening to her. It reminded me a lot of the Meryl Streep movie It’s Complicated, where in the end Meryl sits her kids down and basically says “I’m not apologizing”. People seem to be afraid to show female protagonists really make mistakes or turn to a dark place, and it’s doing a disservice to films at a time when it’s supposed to be all about women in comedy. And they were also afraid to show men as being good in this movie. The only man in the film who gets to be nice (and not someone to walk over or cheat on his wife) is the boyfriend role who is a single parent. No one ever asks him how he makes money or manages his time which is all I was thinking the whole time I was watching. Women have been getting one dimensional characters like these for years, so one one hand “fair is fair” I guess, but I just wanted ONE male character, even if it was the principal or the soccer coach, to be a semi-standup dude for two seconds.
Regardless of all these issues though, it is a fun movie and I highly recommend everyone go see with their mom or call her after. Then when you go back to your own scripts, ask yourself if you’re taking their emotional arc far enough, and if you’re not, what is stopping you from doing so?