The end-credits sequence of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s Bad Moms features interview footage of the film’s main cast members sitting alongside their mothers, who reminisce about their experiences raising their daughters. Most of the anecdotes they offer are of their parenting failures, all of which they recount with an amused twinkle in their eyes, the embarrassment of such moments hardly lessening the affection they still have for their kin. It’s a disarmingly sweet concluding gesture, but it also shows up the rest of the film as the broad and incoherent live-action cartoon that it is.
Though Bad Moms is largely a wish-fulfillment fantasy of overworked and under-appreciated mothers cutting loose, it also aims to be a satirical takedown of the forces that lead women like Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) to curtail their parental duties: lazy fathers, exploitative bosses, a culture that encourages children to be coddled rather than challenged. Occasionally, the film hits on something that feels true to universal human experience. When Amy, who bore the first of her two kids at 20, laments that she feels like she missed out on her 20s, Bad Moms briefly elicits pathos from that inevitable sense of loss that comes with becoming a full-time parent—the realization that your own life is, to some degree, over.
Such incisive moments, though, are subordinate to the filmmakers’ penchant toward deck-stacking caricature, most noxiously the character of Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), a villainous PTA president who’s so invested in her high position that she, as part of the election platform she articulates when a fed-up Amy eventually challenges her presidency, seriously advocates for a 365-day school year, citing Genghis Khan as a model. Gwendolyn is painted as such a harridan that she even intimidates some of the male authority figures at school, including a wimpy soccer coach (J.J. Watt) and an indifferent principal (Wendell Pierce). If anything, she, more than those aforementioned fathers, bosses, and children, is implicated as the cause of everything Amy and company rail against: a power-hungry woman who seems to relish in adding stress to the lives of children and fellow parents.
In fact, all of the mothers in Bad Moms are treated in this exaggerated way, basically coming off as female versions of the man-children Lucas and Moore previously essayed in their screenplay for The Hangover (with Kathryn Hahn, as the proudly oversexed Carla, given Zach Galifianakis-style scene-stealing honors). All of this is enough to undercut any real-world resonance that the filmmakers’ attempts to address issues facing modern-day mothers might have carried, especially as they build toward an overly tidy happy ending in which even Gwendolyn is given a forced last-minute stab at redemption.
Which is why that end-credits sequence is so startling. “Being a mother today is impossible,” Amy says in her climactic PTA-election speech—and yet, despite the maternal stresses that she, Kiki, and Carla feel and try to temporarily eradicate, they still profess to loving their children anyway. But in Bad Moms, the affection they express toward their children—all of them varying shades of spoiled or entitled—feels like little more than a sop to conventionality, as the filmmakers are unwilling to take their comedy to particularly dark places. Only when we see the actresses sitting next to their mothers does the mix of positive and negative emotions feel convincing: The brief sequence does a much better job of illustrating the difficulties of being a mother, and the reward of enduring those trials, than anything in the fictional movie itself.