Chaotic Comedy ‘Moms’ Night Out’ Has Wholesome Content, Toxic Attitude

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Average: 5 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 1.5/5.0
Rating: 1.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Liberty is a concept expressed only in irony with “Moms’ Night Out,” a female-driven minivan comedy that instructs ultimately to listen to thy husband for it is Biblical, even if thy husband is a child himself. Like sad Mitt Romney and his chocolate milk, this PG-romp is a brief walk on the wild side from the rules that await at the end of the night. Unfortunately, while taking out the substance abuse of a Judd Apatow or Todd Phillips arc, this shiny film exorcises the substance that comes with a freer perspective of the world. “Moms’ Night Out” diverges into a film that cannot offer its viewers freedom from the the evil spirits that make a world so toxic, as the film itself is so narrow-minded.

The intentions of “Moms’ Night Out” start out innocent enough, with a zippy beginning that provides false promise for focused filmmaking. Its titular event is organized by one overly-stressed self-proclaimed “mommy blogger” Ally (Sarah Drew) who recruits two mom friends Izzy (Logan White), and pastor’s wife Sondra (“Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Patricia Heaton). Experiencing what she calls stress paralysis, and returning to the sanctuary of watching a live feed of baby bald eagles (America!), loving mother (and a mother who loves being a mom) Ally reaches a breaking point where she needs said break. Her often-traveling husband (Sean Astin) then lovingly compares her current situation to a plane crash, advising her per the rules of flight safety, “You need your oxygen mask.”

And so Ally wrangles up these fellow moms, and commits to the Friday night opportunity of dressing nicely and splurging on a local restaurant where the maitre d will encourage patrons to “look at the art.” When Ally’s reservations are proven to actually be for the next week, the night begins to fall apart, aside from having to relocate to a bowling alley. Her husband is injured at a kid’s arcade, the baby of Ally’s half-sister-in-law/young mother Bridget (Abbie Cobb) goes missing, and Sondra even gets cold feet when the bowling alley DJ blasts “Gangnam Style” (America!) when a literal spotlight is placed on her. The moms end up enlisting the help of a tatted-up biker named Bones (played by Trace Adkins), while their husbands make things even more complicated.

Logan White, Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton, and Abbie Cobb as the moms of ‘Moms’ Night Out’
Photo credit: TriStar Pictures

When taking the movie for its family-friendly spin on something like “The Hangover”, the film is an absolute mess, a jumble of weakly assembled events that collapses at the daintiest gust of casual recollection. A discredit to their brothers’ editing skills, the essential idea of geography is completely abandoned for general haziness, which receives no service when a prior hospital visit is nixed from the arc. To complicate things, the trade-offs of minivans provide an incomprehensive mess to who’s driving what, who is where, etc. The film’s ploy is heavy-handed wackiness, where the comedy is meant to be found simply in the nonsense chaos that reigns.

The debate between science vs. religion not withstanding, the purpose of “Moms’ Night Out” is parallel in spirit to Ronald McDonald’s self-proclaimed first-produced feature commercial, and awkward “E.T.” ripoff, “Mac & Me.” The two films have the squeaky imagery of a 30-second TV spot, their PG-rated romps crafted with specifically squeaky content to serve the idealism for the product actually being sold. Aside from an impromptu dance sequence that takes place inside a McDonald’s (as with “Mac & Me”), or a scene in which one mother states clearly that obedience to a husband is Biblical, the pauses of product placement within these films could be easily designated, were their entire atmosphere not meant to sell a product that only makes brief visual appearances.

Aside from the impromptu McDonald’s dance-offs, intergalactic fast food and McKids overalls line that “Mac & Me” markets, what then is “Moms’ Night Out” selling? Aside from faith, which it unquestionably has every right to do, it presents a wholesome dream of American matriarchy, but at the cost of a toxic attitude. The empowerment that “Moms’ Night Out” bestows to mothers is cheap. In a mean-spirit that becomes emblematic of this comedy, the film upholds mothers by damning fathers, so that the fathers’ incompetency has the same irresponsibility of children that need care. In its lazier comic stretches, the film snaps the Apatow-esque image of stunted man-children, and simply reduces fathers to literally fearing their own spawn. “Moms’ Night Out” feels an urgency to label good parenting as the difference between genders, reducing the idea of fatherhood to a secondary status of works-womanship to motherhood. Yet at the same time, fatherhood is more powerful to the overall cause, because as Ally confirms, “It is Biblical to listen to your husband.” Why not, y’know, treat everyone like equals?

Men need to be rescued in ‘Moms’ Night Out’
Photo credit: TriStar Pictures

As well, the way in which “Moms’ Night Out” presents people outside of the family unit is worrisome with its judgmental attitude, compartmentalizing categories of people in a way that feels mean-spirited, with no one able to escape its “Noah”-size wrath of noisome stereotyping. In its own self-righteousness, aside from fathers fearful of responsibility, it labels tattoo parlor customers as criminals that fear even mutterings of the word “illegal,” teen mothers as negligent drama queens, cops as trigger-clumsy donut-eaters, bikers as dangerous Athiests, pricier restaurants as pretentious, even basketball players as strictly non-white. Maybe because the film isn’t smart enough to think outside of these stereotypes, just like the most toxic of mainstream films (the “Scary Movie” sequels come to mind), “Moms’ Night Out” bunches a diverse group of human beings into its warped idealism where an alternative interpretation is not encouraged.

This color-coding of human beings does harm the film’s heart, its brash attitude spoiling its most tender moments. When the stress of Ally causes her to confide into Bones, Bones shares his side of the story. “I drifted from the faith,” he admits with a rare vulnerability in his stoic baritone. “Shocker,” mutters an unusually mean Ally with disturbing dismissiveness, indicating that even the characters within the script are stereotyping each other, and that such an attitude is one of the bigger albeit poisonous products of this story.

Like the Erwin Brothers’ previous abortion drama hit “October Baby,” “Moms’ Night Out” isn’t so much a preaching to the choir, but something more harmfully narrow-minded than that; this self-righteous film recalls the few parishioners in an active uproar about the “Homeless Jesus” sculpture in North Carolina, which featured the messiah in a visual context that presented him outside of his popular iconography, and as “the other.” Thankfully, that stagnant image of Jesus has caused a discussion that has traveled to different cities, where it challenges the notions of how we accept representations unusual to us. “Moms’ Night Out,” on the other hand, a collection of moving images engineered as an allowed furlough from the ideals it catechizes, ultimately aspires to put its beholders in their place.

“Moms’ Night Out” opens everywhere on May 9th. Featuring Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, Logan White, Patricia Heaton, Abbie Cobb, Kevin Downes, and Trace Adkins. Written by Jon Erwin and Andrea Gyertson Nasfell. Directed by Andrew Erwin & Jon Erwin. Rated “PG editor and staff writer Nick Allen

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