Premise: A group of moms, sick of having to be perfect, throw the Mom Rulebook out the window and embrace an exciting reckless lifestyle.
About: This one comes from Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who will be making this their directing debut. It will star Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn.
Writers: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Details: 112 pages – June 9, 2015
Okay, it’s official. There’s a new secret drug in Los Angeles and just one pill elevates your screenwriting skills to Limitless-like levels, and all of this week’s screenwriters know where to find it. It’s the only explanation for the consistently awesome writing this week.
Either that or I’m in a really good mood and like everything I read right now. Kind of like when you’re dabbling around Itunes and you like every song you hear so you buy all of them and then a week later you launch that “Kickass New Music!” playlist you made only to wonder why the hell do you have a song by Ariana Grande and Phillip Phillips?
Amy Mitchell isn’t the perfect mom. But it’s not through lack of trying. She does everything in her power to keep her daughter, 16 year-old over-achiever Jane, and son, 10 year-old lazy-ass Dylan, productive and happy as clams. But as is the plight of the American mother, neither appreciates anything she does.
But the far worse thing about being a mom in this day and age is the way that every other mom judges you. And the queen bee of the judgers is Gwendolyn James, head of the PTA and all-around mom-tator. You either play by Gwendolyn’s rules (3 hour bake sale meetings) or pay the price (your kid mysteriously doesn’t make the basketball team that year).
Amy’s got bigger fish to fry though, such as her husband, who she finds out has been Skype-masturbating with some weird-looking woman for the past 10 months. Then there’s her boss at the trendy organic gluten-free everybody-has-something-to-offer coffee company run by people 10 years younger than her who always seem to be playing ping pong instead of working. Amy’s boss always overworks Amy because she’s from that older generation that actually does shit, refusing to pay her extra because, like, life is free and so are our feelings.
And then one day, Amy is done. She’s tired of trying to be the perfect mom. I mean why should she be? Nobody seems to notice. So she teams up with the already reckless single mom, Carla Dunkler, and the weirdo stay-at-home mom who’s got no friends, Kiki. Her new mantra is: Do Us. And that’s what they do. They start getting drunk, stop going to work, and skip daily errands to watch Channing Tatum matinees.
But when Amy’s newfound recklessness starts bleeding into Gwendolyn’s tight run ship (how dare Amy bring store-bought donut holes to her #1 nationally ranked PTA Bake Sale), Gwendolyn vows to make an example of her. But Amy pushes back, wanting moms to know that being a Gwendolyn clone isn’t realistic. That real moms are imperfect, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we moms can start being real people again.
Bad Moms may not be reinventing the tire. But it sure added some kick-ass rims. What you realize when you read Bad Moms is how well these two know the craft. They hit all the major story beats (inciting incident, first act turn, lowest point) and yet you don’t notice because the story is so smooth, so natural. That’s one of the signs of a good screenwriter, someone who can hide structure.
Of course, while reading Bad Moms, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Hangover, and how different the two scripts were. That’s something writers don’t talk about enough. Each time you start a new script, you’re embarking on a new unique set of challenges.
Sure, there will be things that are the same (inciting incident, first act turn, lowest point), but the guts of the story will be different from what you’ve done before, and if you don’t know how to navigate those differences (or aren’t patient enough to figure them out), you’re going to be one pissed off over-caffeinated screenwriter.
With The Hangover, there was a goal, and that goal created movement (find Doug – which requires running around Vegas). Bad Moms doesn’t have that. It takes place in a suburb. Nobody has to find anybody. So where does the narrative thrust come from? That’s the first problem you have to solve when you write a movie like this. And that will always be harder. When you have that clear goal, like in The Hangover, the story will pull you along with it. Cause you always know where you have to end up.
Here, you have to manufacture thrust, and Moore and Lucas do it in a non-traditional way, sort of piece-mealing a bunch of engine fragments together. The first section of the script establishes our main character’s life. This section doesn’t necessarily have to have a goal, since there’s interest in getting to know a compelling character (or in this case, characters). We’ll stick with a directionless narrative for 20 pages if people are funny or weird or compelling, and their lives are interesting in some way.
Then, we have the breaking point (the inciting incident). Amy has a particularly horrible mom day and has had enough. This leads us to the fun and games section of the script. This is another section where we don’t necessarily need a goal. Amy and her friends are being bad and stupid and funny – which is the whole reason we paid for the film, to see these scenes. So again, we’ll go with it for awhile.
This is when the first goal arrives (around page 40 or 45 I think?). Amy wants to get laid. Her marriage has been dead for awhile, her husband’s now out of the picture. It fits perfectly with the concept (a bad mom!). This sequence goes for about 12-15 pages.
That’s when Lucas and Moore realize they need something bigger to drive the rest of the story or we’re going to lose interest. So they create this collision of titans – Amy vs. Gwendolyn – that results in Amy running against Gwendolyn for PTA president. I should note that this isn’t the main focus for the rest of the script (Lucas and Moore are still jumping around dealing with Amy’s various unresolved relationships), but it’s enough to frame the second half with some kind of purpose.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t think these goals were amazing. Do we really care if Amy gets laid? Do we really care if she wins PTA president? No. But the engine fragments give the story direction and a destination respectively.
Also, we can’t discount the x-factor here, that Lucas and Moore have an ace in their pocket. They’re funny. Like really funny. And the rule is, as long as the reader is consistently laughing, the plot doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s like being a hot girl. Your looks cover up a lot of your flaws. And the hotter you are, the more crazy or bitchy you can be (Hot Girl: “I really think dolphins are stupid and should be mass-slaughtered.” Environmentalist Guy: “Yeah, totally. They’re like the rats of the sea.”)
With that said, my theory is to always assume you’re not as funny as you think you are and make the story/plot awesome as well. That way, if the jokes are landing fast and furiously, you still have your audience caring about what happens next.
Finally, what Lucas and Moore bring to the table that elevates them above the average comedy screenwriter, is that they realize it isn’t just about laughs. Bad Moms is a stellar character piece. These two really get into the trials and tribulations of what it’s like to be a mom, how that affects your relationships at home, how you’re held to this impossible standard, how you’re being judged on a daily basis by other mothers who think you’re not parenting your kids correctly. I left this script having a better sense of what it’s like to be a mom. And if this was written by an amateur, I’m sure the most I would’ve taken away about moms is several wacky set pieces where moms smoke pot or something.
I’m REALLY worried about this cast. It feels like the B-Team to me. But if we’re only going on the screenplay, these two hit this one out of the park.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: In a screenplay, names are faces. I want to stress this cause it’s important. Readers can’t see faces. Therefore, they associate each character with their name. Therefore, the name is the face. Which is why you want to give your character a name that visually personifies what that character looks like. Lucas and Moore did a spectacular job with this.
Kiki – the weird mom
Gwendolyn – the queen bee mom
Amy Mitchell – the all-American mom
Carla Dunkler – The wild mom
To sell my point here, imagine if we changed Gwendolyn’s name to “Norma.” I’m guessing her face and how she looks in general just shifted in your mind, right? That’s the power of a name.