Christian filmmakers could take a lesson from "Moms' Night Out."
Though the concept, title and previews seemed tepid, this is probably the best in a recent spate of faith-based films - with a dandy plot, solid characterizations and a clear message that, for once, preaches without feeling clunky or shallow.
And as for comedy - well, I haven't laughed this long and loud since "Rat Race."
Overworked mother Allyson (Sarah Drew) and friends get into all kinds of trouble in the comedy “Moms’ Night Out.”
Young dad Sean (Sean Astin) and family friend Kevin (Kevin Downes) get more than they bargained for while babysitting in the movie “Moms’ Night Out.”
"Moms' Night Out" focuses on an overstressed mother (Sarah Drew) whose evening with two girlfriends turns into the usual fiasco; but what sets this apart from so many similar tales is its intricate storyline, involving - among other things - a Taser, a stolen car, tattoo parlor, a wayward parakeet, a missing baby and a gang of bikers.
All of this is cleverly jigsawed together in a way that keeps spiraling into more and more lunacy. It's impossible to re-create here the funniest moments, because most of these depend on a long, complex build-up.
(Some favorites to watch for: "He killed Mama"; "This may surprise you, but I have drifted from the faith"; and "All my friends are in jail" - with its response, "I know how that feels.")
In other words, the PG-rated "Moms' Night Out" gets its laughs not from bathroom humor or sight-gags but from careful construction; in many cases, it's not comedy so much as sheer exuberant delight at what the film keeps managing to do with its characters and their story.
In the same way, the movie will strike a chord with struggling young moms (and to some degree, dads) who are overwhelmed by crazy kids, who wonder why everyone else seems to have it together and who, as a result, keep feeling like the worst parents on earth.
Rotten Tomatoes says critics found this movie "kinda sexist" - and I guess that's what happens when you focus on three full-time moms, at least one of whom is plagued with emotional outbursts over her apparent lack of control in a home from which Dad is often absent.
But in my own social circles, this isn't sexist - it's reality; and I suspect this movie's clear-eyed message about accepting the chaos and not beating yourself up (grounded as it is in the love of God) will be a breath of fresh air to its overworked target audience.
"Moms' Night Out" is aided by solid performances, particularly from Drew and from Sean Astin ("Lord of the Rings") as her long-suffering husband. It would have been easy to demonize him as stupid or uncaring, but the film wisely avoids this; indeed, it loves to undercut stereotypes - particularly in one tattooed biker, played to perfection by Trace Adkins.
The film's only problem is that it wraps things up too neatly, whitewashing virtually every character and working too hard to be cute at the end.
Other than that, "Moms' Night Out" is a solid crowd-pleaser and, having opened on Mother's Day weekend, a fitting tribute to the world's hardest job.
3 1/2 stars out of 4.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.