This American comedy tells the story of three mothers (“moms”), who feel over-stressed by their life, and they begin looking for ways that will liberate them from their stresses and concerns. Amy (Mika Kunis) is married with children, who are achieving well, and she has a career. Exhausted at all she has to do, she finds herself on the verge of a nervous breakdown. To cope, she joins forces with two other over-stressed “moms” – Caria (Kathryn Hahn), and Kiki (Kristen Bell) – and together they indulgently seek freedom that puts them on a collision course with other moms, who are devoted to the kind of life which stressed moms want to leave behind – like that of Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), the tyrannical PTA-President, who engages in “perfect” behaviour.
There is great comedy in Gwendolyn’s excessive meetings with school parents, and her desire for the police to prosecute unapproved ingredients in cakes that are made for the school’s bake sale, which she is organising. The film as a whole is rude, crude and raunchy. The three disillusioned moms rebel, party hard, get drunk, raid a grocery store, engage in profanity, and act-out sexually. The film takes time out to sentimentally reinforce their attachment to motherhood, while at the same time it is keen to send motherhood up. The mix doesn’t work well. The film sends contradictory messages that defeat each other, and its comic elements flow from a hard-edge look at motherhood, rather than an understanding look at good parenting.
The film is also sexist. When it shows male and female behaviour, the movie mostly opts for stereotyped behaviour. For example, all moms need liberating, and the men who are married to them, or who want to be with them, are described as over-sexed, or stupid. The movie nicely celebrates sisterhood and the value of friendship among women, but it focuses on the tough side of parenting, not its worth. This is a journey some will enjoy, and the movie sports a witty script that communicate its messages with sharp one-liners that are well delivered.
The movie further demonstrates easy chemistry among three talented comediennes who bring very different personalities to their situation. Kathryn Khan is especially good as the rebel single mom, who comically delivers nervous outrage with a sharp-edged, verbal bite. Overall, the film reinforces myths rather than truths about motherhood. It salutes the sacrifices made by modern mothers, but it chooses to do that by looking at single moments of truth that speed on by. There are genuine stresses and strains in parenting that deserve discussion and analysis, even in comic vein, and Society mostly overlooks or fails to confront the problem. This film hints at issues in a confronting way, but only sporadically.
A telling point is made when one of the moms wants a car accident to happen to her, so that she can have a fortnight’s rest in hospital. The movie raises the question of whether its version of motherhood poses an impossible ideal pushed by failure to understand the real stresses and strains of responsible motherhood and family life. It might have delivered an insightful satire on modern parenting standards, or offered a critique of what Society expects from the practice of what it regards as “good” parenting. But it mostly smothers its messages in stereotypes, and descends too easily into a crude account of parenting and motherhood that bypasses positive values.
The final message is explicit: “Don’t feel guilty. Being a bad mom is perfectly okay, and everything is alright, so long as you love your children.” If one is looking for cathartic release from the felt strains and stresses of parenting, this is a movie that will undoubtedly entertain, but one is being asked to suspend belief in values that really matter.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting