“It’s a shame that there are so few ensemble women’s films that people are only able to look at what the coincidences are,” says Alethea Jones, director of Fun Mom Dinner. “There’s such a proliferation of male content ensembles, but nobody says, ‘It’s all dudes.’ People have been talking about that we have Fun Mom in our title, and Bad Moms have moms in their title, but nobody ever asks the director and writer of Ant-Man, and Superman, and Batman… the list goes on.”
Jones has a point. While speaking to The A.V. Club, she and writer Julie Rudd make clear they realize that Fun Mom Dinner is arriving amid an especially prolific time for “moms gone wild” movies: 2017 alone has seen the release of Rough Night, Girls Trip, Fun Mom Dinner, and, come November, A Bad Moms Christmas. (Those first three arrived mere weeks apart.) Yet while Jones is correct that women’s movies are often held to a different standard, and Rudd adds that Fun Mom came from a place of personal inspiration—she drew from her own group of mom friends at her kids’ pre-kindergarten several years ago—it’s hard to overlook the similarities. This year, “women gone wild” has become a formula that borders on cliché.
Hollywood has long had a habit of taking successful trends, then repackaging them for women. When the Farrellys’ gross-out comedy There’s Something About Mary became a hit in 1998, The Sweetest Thing followed in 2002, with Mary’s Cameron Diaz and pals Christina Applegate and Selma Blair enduring glory holes and freaky oral sex/piercing accidents on their way to finding true love. After Todd Phillips raunched up the bro comedy with 2008’s R-rated bachelor party bacchanal The Hangover, 2011’s Bridesmaids became a similarly huge hit by showing that the other side of the wedding aisle could be just as down and dirty. The next year’s Bachelorette, though not nearly as popular, got even more wicked.
As Bridesmaids became the template for female comedies to follow, we’re still seeing a surge of movies about how girls wanna have fun, too, from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s Best Night Ever (“Likely to be appreciated only by homeless viewers who need a quiet place to nap during the cold months of winter,” said our own Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in his “F” review), to the tame, Christian-marketed Moms’ Night Out in 2014, to 2016’s Bad Moms—which, to bring things full circle, was written and directed by The Hangover’s Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. And now here we are in a year with four of them in a row.
To be fair to Jones, Rudd, and the “women gone wild” genre as a whole, these films all have their individual strengths—and weaknesses. Yes, both Rough Night and Girls Trip concern college friends reuniting over one wild weekend: a bachelorette party in the former, New Orleans’ Essence Festival in the latter. In both films, the women are all at varying levels of success, relationship status, and maturity, which makes for an interesting clash. But they diverge significantly from there: Girls Trip does an excellent, life-affirming job of exploring why some friendships fade away, and it does so with characters who feel recognizably real. The sour Rough Night is full of one-note characterizations (“The Activist,” “The Needy One”), and it turns into a horrible hybrid of Weekend At Bernie’s and Very Bad Things. There is also the not-insignificant fact that Girls Trip’s cast appeals to a criminally underserved black audience, which—along with being an entertaining romp—has certainly helped its box office success, giving it the biggest opening weekend of any live-action comedy so far this year.
Despite Jones’ and Rudd’s protests, there’s a similarly obvious comparison to be made between Bad Moms and Fun Mom Dinner—and as with Rough Night/Girls Trip, one of them suffers from it. Bad Moms’ cast of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn benefits from genuine chemistry and the film’s evident compassion for the job of motherhood (“At least once a day, I feel like the worst mom in the world… I feel like I’m screwing up all the time,” it begins in Kunis’ voice-over). Next to it, Fun Mom feels slightly shallow, its characters never genuinely connecting until a third-act game of “Never Have I Ever,” and far too little happening in their supposedly wild evening to create any real drama.
And throughout all of these films, there are those “coincidences”—the characters and tropes that make it so anyone could create their own Women Gone Wild movie, simply by filling in the blanks: the uptight perfectionist who really needs to loosen up; the Zach Galifianakis-like oddball who’s down to get cra-aa-aa-zy; some sort of alcohol or drug-induced bonding; the big, group-dissolving fight in the third act; the friendship-affirming group hug that resolves it, and so on.
Again, these tropes still have their individual standouts: Like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids before her, Girls Trip’s Tiffany Haddish gives a star-making performance as the free-spirited Dina, whose spiking her friends’ drinks with absinthe leads to Queen Latifah’s Sasha hilariously making out with a lamp. But the rote nature of this checklist only contributes to the kind of comparisons that Jones and Rudd lament.
Fun Mom Dinner does have something many of these other films are lacking: It was written and directed by women, which gives it a wholly female perspective. Bridesmaids and Girls Trip had female writers but male directors; Rough Night is the film debut of Broad City’s Lucia Aniello, but the script was co-written with her male partner, Paul W. Downs. In our interview, Jones stresses the importance of “stacking diversity behind the lens in terms of writers, directors, producers—the more diverse we go, the more interesting the stories and the deeper the characters are going to be and their experiences on the screen are going to be more honest and authentic.” (Her next project will involve an exploration of that classic childhood female icon, Barbie.) But it’s frustrating that, even with that diversity behind the scenes, what ends up on screen often feels so homogenous.
And it’s especially frustrating given that, as Rudd herself describes, there are so many women’s stories to be told—even if just focusing on parenthood. “There are endless stories about moms,” Rudd says. “Since I wrote this, there are 75 new crazy things that have happened with my kids. You put five moms in a room, they can talk for 60 days about crazy things that have happened. There is no lack of material if people want to continue making so-called ‘mom movies,’ as long as authentic people are telling authentic stories.”
Those “mom movies” could explore anything and everything, from the nitty-gritty of parenting to platonic friendships to romance, and the considerable success of Bad Moms and Girls Trip continues to prove there’s a constant demand for female-centric comedies. But if the filmmakers behind them want to break away from being unfairly lumped in with each other, they also need to break from the tired “one crazy night” trope and offer us something new—a bolder, more colorful, more empowering mural, and something much less paint-by-numbers. That would be even wilder.