May 10, 2014

MOVIES: "MOM'S NIGHT OUT"




Just in time for Mother's Day comes a genuinely fun and funny film about the crazy adventure that is parenting, specifically motherhood (with a serving of fatherhood on the side). If you've seen the snappy trailer, the movie does deliver on its promise, and there's lots more LOLs where that came from. But....

Dear Southern Christian filmmakers,
You're making some really great films these days. You've got a lot of the right stuff, all the elements, but you must, puhleeeeze: PICK. UP. THE. PACE. We are contracting narcolepsy watching your characters SPIT. IT. OUT. and WRAP. UP. THE. SCENE.
Ever so grateful,
Northern Christian audiences

As I was saying, this is a great little film, but about that pacing? The film starts of at frenetic, breakneck speed with voiceover from Allyson (Sarah Drew), the most stressed-out Mom (with three little kids) in her group of Mommy friends. She's really in a bad place, allowing her perfectionism and control-freakiness get the best of her. We're given lots of rapid-fire information in a little time to set up the rest of the film. There's a great use of visuals: intercuts, animation, graphics, cutaways, freeze frames, subtitles, etc. (the best is the pop-up texts with one Mom's hilarious "auto-correct" fails). But then, like an inverted pyramid, the film just gets slower and slower and s-l-o-w-e-r. We're already enjoying the film, so we have no problem going along for the ride, er, crawl.

The premise is simple: a bunch of Christian Moms from the same church, including the pastor's wife (Patricia Heaton), just want a break, a few hours to themselves at a fancy restaurant. However, as the saying goes: "Man's work is from sun to sun; woman's work is never done," and the rather inept hubbies/fathers can't quite handle things on their own. Actually, none of the adults in this film seem terribly grown up. A baby goes missing (not belonging to any of our Moms) and the film becomes about finding the baby (last known whereabouts: a tattoo parlor). Or rather, the film SHOULD have become about saving the baby (Hello? Missing baby?). The problem is, the baby is not directly connected to our protagonist, (it's her husband's half-sister's) so we now have a conflict of focus. Quite often, and rather jarringly even for a comedy, other petty concerns that are closer to our main character's (or another character's) heart take precedence. Sometimes the baby gets lots in the shuffle of the three ring circus that is this movie, and even the baby's mother seems to forget her objective. There's a real lack of desperation and urgency, along with very unreal (mild) reactions to this emergency.

All that being said, the dialogue is superb and truly humorous all the way through (UNLIKE so many supposed "comedies" today). The acting is also quite excellent. At UCLA, we were taught that comedy is HARD. It's the hardest genre of film, believe it or not. The only measure of a comedy's success is if people laugh. That's it. And we do. Timing is everything in comedy. Our actors were fine with the timing, but the overall pace of the film diminished its effectiveness. Our minds already figure out a few split-seconds ahead what's going to happen. Had the film been cut smart and terse like the trailer, it would have tightened things up a lot and we would have had gag upon gag without time to breathe between guffaws. (Perfect timing is part of what makes "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" so successful.) Get into the scene late, leave early.

I hope I'm not being overly critical, because the film really is enjoyable (epic silliness!) and has great advice for Moms in the end, throughout its multiple endings.

Without giving too much away, let's just say that the takeaway of "Mom's Night Out" is about letting ourselves off the hook when we're beating ourselves up or are totally unrealistic in our expectations. We need to step back and question where the SCRIPT is coming from that we are trying to follow. Our own overblown dreams? Our friends? Peer pressure? Our parents? The neighbors? Images that the media tells us we should live up to? Worries about the future? Why don't we write our OWN script? Why don't we count our blessings? Why don't we "resign as general manager of the universe" for our own peace of mind? Why don't we start with what's possible, what's right in front of us?

This is a Christian-produced film: Provident Films and Pure Flix, and you'll recognize actors from "Fireproof" and "Courageous." Christian invective: "Oh, crud."

The story takes into account the reality of today's living without getting too gritty or serious, but tries to steer us (though the characters' foibles) toward the path of contentment in the midst of duty, sacrifice, the unexpected, the disruptive and the uncontrollable. God is always our answer and our Rock, but how that practically plays out will look different for each of us, depending on our personalities, issues and life experiences.

OTHER STUFF:

--Cutsie, but relatable, I'm sure.

--Dear Hollywood, please stop the trend of loud pop song singing through dialogue. Thank you.

--Directors: Erwin Brothers ("October Baby")

--A word about parenting (as though I would know):
Allyson's kids aren't brats, but they are little banshees. You do NOT have to let your kids scream and holler whenever it occurs to them to do so. I really think that at least two generations of parents (Boomers and Gen Xers) are possessed of the false notion that if we say "no" to our kids, it will repress, oppress and otherwise warp them. But I think it's simply because we can't say "no" to ourselves. Discipline (self- and otherwise) is a beautiful thing. As my mother says, when you don't discipline a child so they can fit in nicely into a civilized society, you're doing that child a disservice because no one wants to be around them. Methinks we need a little more "British nanny" childrearing these days and a little less "raised by wolves." Allyson is hyper-vigilant and organized, perhaps, but hyper-undisciplined, and therefore, so are her children. (Dad travels a lot).

--Check out this article from the Toronto Star: Overwhelmed: Why overwork is the new American status symbol http://on.thestar.com/1hOT3HJ 



4 comments:

  1. Right before attending a screening of Moms' Night Out, I screened Heaven is for Real. I was so very bored and annoyed with Heaven is for Real, and I was concerned and prepared to have a similar experience with MNO. Happy to report I didn't have any of those feelings! I was entertained and emotionally moved by several scenes. I don't recall being as frustrated with the pace as you, but I appreciate your point. I loved the opening scene. It set the tone for the whole film for me. Kind of a "This isn't your typical faith-based film. Get ready for a fun ride" type of impression. And from that point on, I was able to relax and simply enjoy it, as did others in the theater with me. Lots and lots of laughter throughout; clapping when it was done. Maybe that's just because we Iowans are entertained easily? :)

    One thought about some of the critique I'm reading about the action scenes being over the top ... not at all!! Two weeks ago, a girlfriend and I planned our own moms' night out. And what did I have to deal with right before heading out? A cardinal in my house, flying around and around and around for over an hour. CRAZY happens, and it felt so good just to laugh along to others' crazy. Sure, there's room for improvement, but MNO is one of my favorites coming out of the contemporary faith-based genre. I'm excited to see what comes next from the Erwin Brothers!

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    1. One more thing! In conjunction with the link you shared at the bottom of your post, here's an interesting post from a man who quit using the word 'busy' for one year. Minimally, I found it an interesting social experiment: http://www.tylerwardis.com/busy-isnt-respectable-anymore/

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