“Bad Moms” began life as a film with Leslie Mann set to star and Judd Apatow producing, but that's changed now. Instead, writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore of “The Hangover” have managed to move the film from Paramount to STX Entertainment, and they've got Christina Applegate, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis all set to star.
That's as strong a trio of comic performers as any male-driven movie you can point at in development right now. One of the best set visits I've ever been on was for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Yes, part of that is because the film was shooting in Hawaii at the Turtle Bay Resort, and we stayed at the resort for the week I was there watching them work. That helped. But part of it was also because it was a group of people who all seemed determined to prove just how smart and funny they were while telling a story they genuinely cared about, which is an energy that is positively electric when you're around it.
On “Marshall,” I watched Bell work quite a bit, and she totally changed my mind about who she was as an actor. I had “Veronica Mars” in my head before watching her work, and I had a hard time imagining her playing something else but that sort of spunky wise-ass, which is simply a testament to how well she made the character feel like it was really her. The Kristen Bell I got to watch work was great at improvisation and unafraid of any joke or any scene, as long as it was honest and funny. She and Jason Segel were so interesting together, and I was impressed by how often she'd be the one who would push a scene to some unexpected place, some darker note. Not because she's a “she,” but simply because I hadn't seen her do that kind of work before. No one else had cast her that way. No one else had given her the room to be that person.
The same thing was true when I was watching Christina Applegate on the “Anchorman” set. She was given the exact same room and respect by Adam McKay as the rest of the cast, and that was essential if she was going to be able to play Veronica correctly. She had to be able to fight back no matter what Will Ferrell or David Koechner or Paul Rudd threw at her, and she never blanched once. And Kunis struck me on “Marshall” as someone who has been doing this for so long tha she's completely at ease now, whether working closely to the script or totally playing fast and free. She's obviously willing to joke about anything, as even just a look at her work on “Family Guy” over the years would prove.
When I see guys melting down over the Paul Feig “Ghostbusters” remake because of the woman-driven cast, it baffles me. Comedy, no matter what Jerry Lewis says, is not gender-driven. It's comedy. It's about observation and invention and all sorts of things, but it's not based on gender. No one owns it, and while I saw some hand-wringing over the weekend about what the box-office failure of “Jem & The Holograms” means for movies aimed at girls or women, I think that's missing the bigger picture right now. There are more and more films being driven by a larger and larger talent pool, and the audiences are responding. It's frankly surprising that it took this long for someone to make a “Hangover” for moms, because I guarantee that audience will go if the film works.
More than that, though, I no longer believe that a male audience will stay away because they're threatened or they're upset. I think a very small and oddly vocal slice of the audience might stay away, but the death of the idea that movies have to driven by men to interest men is one of the most welcome developments of the last few years, and I think it's only getting more accepted and entrenched, not less.