“Moms’ Night Out” sneaks up on its audience, at first masquerading as a sorta spin on “Bridesmaids” for the married-with-kids set before unveiling itself as a Christian-centric moral tale meant to remind both its audience and its characters that God loves them no matter what – even if they make a bad movie. But the real secret of “Moms’ Night Out” is not that it has a lesson for you – that actually sounds like a good thing in comparison to what unfolds over the film’s excruciating ninety-eight runtime – but that the film is plainly unfunny, the product of creators who shamelessly rip off other, better films without understanding why exactly those productions worked to begin with.
Strangely enough, the film starts off somewhat strong, thanks to an appealing leading lady (Sarah Drew) who has been waylaid by a very relatable issue: she’s not a good mom. While the stresses of parenting can provide plenty of comedic material, “Moms’ Night Out” doesn’t actually kick off with humor – it goes for heartache. Drew’s Allyson has always dreamed of the domestic life, but now that she has it, she’s just not happy. Her kids are terrors, her house is a mess, her husband (Sean Astin) is well meaning but unable to truly empathize with her plight, and her mommy blogging business isn’t going anywhere (yes, Allyson also dreams of being a mommy blogger, but let’s try to forgive her that, at least for now). Allyson is marked by a need to clean and control, and she may be frenetic and kind of crazy, but Drew has some real charm, even though it’s not nearly enough to make the film work in the slightest.
Allyson eventually hatches a plan for a moms’ night out, thanks to a well-timed Groupon, and ropes her best friend Izzy (Andrea Logan White, going for some sort of “offbeat” thing with no actual payoff or explanation) and inspirational pastor’s wife Sondra (Patricia Heaton, who is tasked with reminding everyone of her age by constantly complaining about how loud the music is and how she doesn’t understand how to text) into the scheme. They’re not asking for much, no one is hauling off to Vegas and the only mention of alcohol is used as a method of shame, they just want to have a nice dinner.
Obviously, it doesn’t work out.
“Moms’ Night Out” tries to go for the perpetually funny “and then everything goes wrong” plotline, but it’s woefully unable to find the appropriate methodology for unfurling such aggravations. A lost restaurant reservation is treated with the same weight as a lost baby, and the result is a mish-mash of mishaps and missteps that’s just draining, not entertaining. The very real emotional and physical consequences of various situations (see: that lost baby) are principally played for laughs with little regard or respect for the actual beats and requirements of comedy. In short, it’s just not funny – in fact, it’s actually stressful to watch, the exact thing the film aims to avoid.
(This is what passes for an amusing plot movement in “Moms’ Night Out”: “It seems as if your baby is the drinking buddy of a relapsed alcoholic.” Do you need a Xanax yet?)
The film’s pacing is oddly staggered – it takes nearly a third of the movie to get to our titular night out, and then things really stall, just as they are meant to be ratcheting up into wacky time. Even at just ninety-eight minutes, the film still manages to drag, and its last hour is utterly exhausting to watch. Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin attempt to spice up what’s happening on screen by digging into a big basket of unnecessary tricks that help illuminate the thinness of what they’re working with here. There’s stock footage, on-screen text pulled from text messages and blog posts, scribbled names and facts to introduce characters, frozen screens, split screens, the whole she-bang, and none of it adds to the film in the least, it only distracts.
The film’s Christian themes and morals at least provide some kind of calming reprieve, even when weirdly shoehorned in between trips to a tattoo parlor that apparently only attracts criminals, enough shouting matches to make you want to invest in earplugs, a car chase that involves children, and the death of a parakeet (thanks to an ill-timed ass-landing). At least when someone starts randomly talking about God and Jesus and faith, the audience can relax, safe in the knowledge that no animals or children will die while the Bible is being invoked.
Then, of course, it’s back to the unflinching and unfunny joke train, mercilessly chugging onward into ever worse circumstances. By its conclusion, the film is utterly nonsensical, not just in terms of plot, but actual production value. At one point, the lights in the police station where most of the last act’s dramas converge go out for no discernable reason, and no one seems to notice – if that’s not divine intervention telling everyone to shut this thing down, it’s hard to know what is.