What if you combined the premises of Bridesmaids and Bad Moms, but bled them dry of risque humor? This bland cocktail would be Fun Mom Dinner, a comedy whose tame take on a wild night is so humdrum it might function best as a sleep aid. And considering the cast at the core of this female-made comedy, that’s pretty shocking.
Katie Aselton, who plays the sharp-tongued Jenny on the spiky sitcom The League, stars as a harried former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, who craves some “me time” and some sex from her oblivious husband (Adam Scott). Superstar’s Molly Shannon plays a recently divorced mom, who’s obsessed with Instagram, and baffled by the online dating scene. (Do not google “rose budding.”) Toni Collette, who has played wild women and party girls in everything from Muriel’s Wedding and Velvet Goldmine to United States of Tara, portrays a jaded mom, who feels she doesn’t need “mom friends,” just steady doses of weed to keep her rolling along with the demands of four rowdy sons. And Bridget Everett, who’s made a stand-up career out of being proudly salacious onstage, dons a childish unicorn pajama/onesie to play the ball-busting, volunteering-obsessed mom, whose wildest moment is a a late-night swim.
With a cast like this—and supporting appearances from Rob Huebel, Paul Rust, David Wain, and Paul Rudd—this should be an outrageous fun, goosing our mundane concepts of parents, reveling in the wild nights that still might be possible. But the script from Julie Yaeger Rudd (Yes, Paul Rudd’s wife) never gives these ready-to-cut loose moms anything all that exciting to do. The mom squad shares a joint in a restaurant bathroom, then runs out on the bill after accidentally setting off the sprinkler system. It’s a timid start, but hey maybe something spicy will happen next. Or maybe they’ll go to Walgreen’s because someone has a gift card and a hankering for Cheetos. (It’s the latter, played like a baller moment with slo-mo and silly swagger.)
Frankly, the dads’ screen time should have been sacrificed to building out character moments for the moms. As it is, director Alethea Jones’ feature debut lazily loops together this foursome’s friendship over one tedious set piece after another, not creating characters as much as vaguely sexist stereotypes of the bitchy one, the bossy one, the aggressively friendly one, and the doormat. While they’re meant to be relatable, each manages to come off as more pathetic, and I began to wonder if Jones had something more clever and darker at work here.
Perhaps we’re meant to think their night out isn’t outrageous, or even enviably fun, and just pathetic. When they go to a seemingly hip bar, and Adam Levine shows up as temptation in skinny jeans, maybe we are supposed to scoff at the on-the-nose nature of it all. When he surprises the fun moms with a karaoke jam, maybe we’re expected to be incredulous when they have no problem belting out “99 Luftballons” in German. Maybe lead-weight jokes like “We’re sticking together like sister wives” and saying they’ll get “supremely high” on marijuana called “Ruth Bader Ganja”, isn’t intended to be funny. Which would be good, because they play like lame dad jokes, landing with a groan instead of a laugh.
Early on the foursome scuttles away from the sprinkled restaurant, while Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” resounds. Its dissonance—mild wild seemingly cheered by the notorious Godfather of Punk—is jarring, but not exactly funny. That’s when I began to wonder if this isn’t a straightforward comedy, but a biting one that’s actually meant to mock parents as a whole. Oh, you dined and ditched after smoking some “doobage?” How young and reckless of you! Your kids have totally not made you less of an exciting person! By the time they rip-off Jaws, sharing scars from raging mother-in-laws, I hoped to God this was all meant to be ironic. I mean, even the title feels like a gag, as if the screenwriter gave-up half-way through the pitch. But then came the hard-turn ending, where a thickly laid on reference to the John Hughes’ classic Sixteen Candles explodes into a ham-fisted emotional turning point involving a zippy red car and a sweater vest.
This mawkishly snatched moment is so earnest and unearned that I had to accept Fun Mom Dinner is not an eyebrow-raising evisceration of comedies like Bridesmaids and Bad Moms, but a desperate pretender that doesn’t realize stars and eagerness are no substitute for outrageous gags and actual jokes.
Still, I look forward to whatever Rudd and Jones do next. After all, it’s not like you can get much worse than Fun Mom Dinner.