Review

The Hangover Alumni: Bad Moms and War Dogs

 

Being too late to produce a timely piece of writing on either film and too lazy to do so even though it would be worthwhile, I’m just going to throw a bunch of ideas down now. At leave I have the flimsy justification that both directorial teams Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (Bad Moms) and Todd Phillips (War Dogs) worked on The Hangover. The prior being the writers for the original and the latter the director of the whole trilogy.

Bad Moms first. It’s good, it’s funny, it suffers from the Rocky 3 problem. The overuse of montage is insane, now it’s not as bad as that example because a comedy montage can still provide good comedy whereas an overlong montage in a narrative film really contributes nothing. It does sorta mess up the pace though. There’s like a period where three montages are held apart by fewer than a dozen scenes. It just feels a little wonky.

When the plot is kicking though it really shines, the brief synopsis is that a group of overworked mothers feel constrained by the weight of the societal expectation placed upon them and cut loose. It’s deliberately minor, coming from the writers of The Hangover the film borrows its looseness of incident. Drama arises from conflict around the local school district’s parent teacher association, however even that at times takes a backseat to other affairs: dating, parenthood. While the connections between these subplots are there the plot is more than happy to bounce back and forth carried by the talents of a cast who are clearly having a LOT of fun. They all perform admirably, although one wishes Jada Pinkett Smith had more to do, her character ends up feeling pretty underserved, like an afterthought.

It really is striking how much of a non-entity the men are in this film. Like, you could pretty handily excise them all and barely lose anything. Indeed spousal subplots are the weakest part of this film, and the terror of commitment we find present in The Hangover resides here too, which is a juxtaposition with the material. Ultimately it states, it is possible to balance a personal life while maintaining a parental role. This here is undermined by the fact that the film takes, for a film about ‘Moms’, remarkably little interest in motherhood. The leads all seemingly find themselves in a position (financially or otherwise) where they can stop caring for a while without any serious repercussions. And the solution to having it all… I don’t know, maybe find an additional six hours in the day between 9:45 and quarter to ten. The party hours.

Really, by refusing to interact with any of the societal structures that contribute to the disenfranchisement of mothers in modern society it really all feels pointless. And rich white feminism only works if you’re rich and white.

Fun flick, but a little unexamined. Shot by Jim Denault it looks far better than it has any right to.

 

Speaking of unexamined, let’s move on to War Dogs! The tale of how two young arms (by which we mean military supply) dealers land one of the biggest provisions contracts of the modern age. It ends up feeling like a cross between The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, but somehow misses the vast gulf in perspective between the two. Wolf examines the flaws in a system through the excesses of its villains. The Big Short goes through the opposite route, allowing us to revel in the success of the closest things the financial crisis had to heroes. War Dogs plays these two opposites simultaneously. Both heroes and villains, whatever the film wants us to feel about these guys, it ends up leaving us confused.

Which is a shame, because Miles Teller and Jonah Hill put in a couple of great performances finding real nuance is a script that gives them little in the way of motivation. David Packouz, Teller’s character, is starting a family which, while is a little thin, gives us insight into his character. Hill’s Efraim Diveroli remains a mystery to us, I guess the film doesn’t owe us an explanation. However the other films I mention find a way to tie the action of the plot into the larger systemic problems in the worlds the characters move through. It tries, but ultimately doesn’t present a compelling argument as to why the actions presented are endemic of the problems of the military industrial complex.

It’s too nice I think. It’s really fun, it zips along. The action is well executed and the story admirably told but it ultimately can’t escape the emptiness at its core. Also I’m not too sure what Bradley Cooper’s going for here but it’s not working for him, not at all. It’s a shame, a topic primed for evisceration paired with a film that can’t quite do it. Oh well.

So there we go. Two fun, exciting, funny, movies that don’t quite manage to do what they want. You could do worse and, to be fair, they could have as well.

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