Between Heaven is for Real, Son of God, and about ten million Christian Mingle vids in my Facebook feed (take a hint marketers: I look like Shylock), 2014 was a big year for Bible-based movies I accidentally saw sober. Not all of these films were completely bad (There was Noah and, you know, the other one!), but most just felt like brochures proselytizers hand out in bus stations: colorless apocalyptic clip art. Moms’ Night Out, released just this past weekend to the tune of $4.2 million dollars, is very much a part of this unfortunate cultural trend. It’s the story of four rogue moms who go out for a wild night on the town (think soda! think Groupons! think Cosmic f#$(*n bowling!), then discover that God and family is way better than any hilarious fantasies of “freedom” they might have had. While not as explicitly messianic as other films in its genre, Moms’ Night Out looks back nostalgically to a time when both gender roles and women’s vaginas remained effortlessly tight. Light on its surface, crazy at its heart, Moms’ Night Out hides a B.C.-era cultural agenda behind its easy-reader-kill-me-now khaki momcore façade.
At the center of Moms’ Night Out is Allyson (Sarah Drew), an anxious stay-at-home mom who’s struggling to find a balance between her family and her mommy blog (Actual premise, no sarcasm added). While her husband Sean (Sean Astin) is off at work, Allyson spends Mother’s Day playing with her kids (the horror!), racing to Church (the terror!), and watching an eagle prance around on a webcam (the symbolism!). I wanted to empathize with Allyson – parenting is indeed a hard job – before details emerged and common sense kicked in. Upper crust Allyson never leaves her kids – she refuses to hire a babysitter and actually homeschools the whole family. Growing up, my parents sent me to school and let me watch 80 hrs/wk of TV because I – like all children – was unbearable. The less family time we shared, the happier we were, and I think that’s both normal and fine. But Moms’ Night Out is part of a culture that glorifies mothers-who-martyr and sees children not as talkative fart machines but as bite-size messengers of God. So when Allyson reaches out to the fellow moms in her Bible study group to plan one lonely moms’ night out, you can’t help but feel little bits of pity and chunks of (self-righteous) sad.
All three moms – Izzy (Logan White), Sondra (Patricia Heaton), and later Bridget (Abbie Cobb) – decide to join Allyson for a Saturday night out, leaving the children in the hands of their “charmingly incompetent” husbands. Isn’t it cute when fathers fail their children?? Allyson, who is chatty and neurotic and therefore her-larious (think: a born-again Diane Keaton), worries about what’ll happen when she leaves her kids for one night only. Will Sean let them stay up all night and play violent video games? The consequences are too pathetic for me to type. Despite their fears, Allyson and her friends bravely forge ahead and purchase a Groupon for their favorite Caesar Salad restaurant. Upon arriving, Allyson discovers that they’ve made a reservation for the wrong week, leaving them no choice but to gather up all their things, put away their credit cards, and then – when will the insanity stop – Go. To. Another. Restaurant. The night is young, and the wackiness – just beginning.
Watching Moms’ Night Out, you might think it’s all good clean mom-edy. But humor is rooted in anxiety, and Moms’ Night Out is deeply nervous about the modern era. Men like Allyson’s husband flail at babysitting because they’re men – meant to work and throw big rocks and bone from the top. Women like Allyson and her friends can’t go out because they’re moms – meant to care and clean and fake full-body orgasms. Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin (the team behind October Baby, an anti-abortion momodrama), Moms’ Night Out is terrified of everything: from tattoos (poor people), to rap (black people), to sex (finally, an anxiety I can understand). We don’t sympathize with the heroes because we don’t believe in their plight; we don’t laugh at the jokes because we can’t identify their paranoia (except this one guy in the back row. He was drunk and having a tough old time).
About halfway through the movie, fellow mom Bridget realizes that her ex-boyfriend Joey has left her baby in the hands of a (gulp!) tattoo artist for the night. The moms go into a collective panic – cause you know, tattoos=death – and then spend the remainder of the movie trying to find said baby in the darkest recesses of their lovingly segregated climate-controlled Cheesecake Factory of an exurb. It should come as no surprise that Bridget – the movie’s one unmarried mom/unspoken whore – is the one directors have chosen to undergo this trauma. But all women pay the price for their token night out – from broken DSW heels to tasered synthetic faces to full-on county jail incarceration. None of these things would’ve happened, Moms’ Night Out argues, had the women simply stayed home, cooked dinner, proffered handjobs.
Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing I fantasize about more than a evening/weekend/lifetime spent at home. I’d much rather watch my children throw loose feces on the wall than ever have to show up to work again. Call it maternalism, call it a mood disorder, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be a stay-at-home parent/professional invalid. There is something concerning, however, when movies like Moms’ Night Out offer that as the only choice. You can judge Moms’ Night Out by the lure of its cinematography or the persuasiveness of its actors (Grade here = Indifference +), but ultimately we score movies on the perspicacity of their storytelling and the quality of their cleavage shots. In the case of Moms’ Night Out, the story is trite, the message vacuous, and the boobs obscured by infinite folds of Lands End mock turtleneck. Story of my life.
At the end of Moms’ Night Out, Allyson realizes that it’s not enough to be a mommy – to be fulfilled in life, she need become a professional mommy blogger. See, the reason Allyson’s been anxious all along has nothing to do with the fact she has no career/social life and that she never NOT ONCE uses tongue to kiss her husband (seriously, I’ve had hotter middle school dry humping sessions). It’s that she just hasn’t learned how to accept God’s plan for her, which apparently includes: family bowling, diet sodas, child dumps. You can’t change your life, Moms’ Night Out seems to say, but you can blog about it. Modern day advice for a premodern story, and I’m here to unsubscribe.
Grade: Don’t do this to yourself.
Heather Dockray is a comedian and storyteller living in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of Heather’s work at www.heatherdockray.com, follow her on twitter @Wear_a_helmet, and email her at email@example.com if you aren’t from Moveon.org.