Mom's Night Out: Is there a sexist in the house?
I am not a film critic. Let that be known from the beginning. My palette, when it comes to the medium of sound and spectacle, is somewhere between eclectic and immature. My tastes aren’t refined, acquired or really anything beyond banally average. I think Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (the first one, not the second one) is underappreciated comedy gold and one of my favorite recently discovered films is a Korean production called War of the Arrows (seriously, though, go check that one out).
In other words, I’m not exactly qualified to watch the watchmen when it comes to the world of film critics.
But, naturally, I’m going to do it anyway.
Mom’s Night Out doesn’t pretend to be anything special, which is good, because it’s not anything special. It’s essentially a Hallmark movie with a better cast and a bigger budget. The writing is tolerable, the direction bland, and the only unpredictable moment in the screenplay was when Sean Astin’s character tried to reset his shoulder by flinging himself headlong into a wall.
Honestly, I didn’t see that one coming.
But at the same time, it’s not a bad movie. The writing is coherent (which is more than can be said for some other, big-budget Hollywood fare), the direction is competent (also lacking in some major productions, I’m looking at you, Monument’s Men), and the cast fits their roles with Trace Adkins being a particular joy.
The result: a movie that will be either enjoyable or endurable depending on your relationship to the general conceit.
Judging by the reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes, the main premise is not appreciated by the typical critic at large. The general consensus of the reviews state, “Cheap-looking, unfunny, and kind of sexist to boot, Moms' Night Out is a disappointment from start to finish.” The movie’s score is a dismal 14%.
In other words, 86% of the critics hated it.
In all fairness, there’s a lot to dislike about the movie. It does have a fairly low-quality aesthetic and the humor is hit-and-miss and never particularly clever or memorable. The pacing is off in places and the characters are more stereotypes than they are actual people.
You know what that makes this film, though? Average. What it doesn’t make it is worthy of the amount of contempt being heaped upon it. The truth is that the movie is being unfairly ridiculed and belittled because it unashamedly supports a family decision for the wife to be a stay-at-home mom. The charge of sexism is unmerited and, quite frankly, ridiculous.
I am no fan of most “Christian” movies. You won’t hear or see me defending poor scripts, shoddy productions, or unimaginative storylines (but that’s another story for another time). What I will do, and am doing, is call out obvious bias when I see it.
Look, there’s bias!
Over at Metro.us reviewer Matt Prigge completely misses the mark when he says the message of the movie is, “That moms are both appreciated but should really never leave the home and might as well stay chained there while the boys make the bucks and play video games (I really don’t know what’s worse, his inability to follow a movie as simple as the one he’s reviewing or the structure of that sentence).”
This same misguided sentiment is present in the review over at thevillagevoice.com and at roberebert.com (I wonder if the departed spirit of the renowned critic is aware that his name is being attached to such lazy outputs?).
Ray Pride over at newcityfilm.com says the problems of the main characters are a result of their unwillingness to listen to their husbands and God. Personally, I wonder what he was listening to while watching the movie to come out of it with that observation.
These reviews and others like them are less a reflection of the movie itself and more of a result of the reviewers deciding what the movie is about and the appropriateness of the message before the lights even go down. These critics didn’t show up to review the movie but to serve as the pallbearers at its funeral because in their minds it was DOA. Not only is this sentiment unfair to the movie and to its potential audience but it also speaks poorly of the reviewer’s ability to judge a movie based on its performance rather than on the reviewer’s bias.*
Mom’s Night Out is not high-quality cinema.** Criticisms of the script, screenplay, direction, or the production itself are more than fair and appropriate. But when critics stoop to miscategorizing and misrepresenting the film’s theme and message in order to keep people away they have crossed a line. A line that anyone who pretends to be an objective and professional gatekeeper of the world of film ought never stoop to crossing. So the question is what is it about the movie’s theme that inspires professional objective viewers to become so darn unprofessional and subjective?
The sticking point is found in the blanket assessment many critics make in claiming that the movie advocates stay-at-homeness as the only viable option for a woman. But this is simply an assertion the movie never makes. Rather the film tells the story of its central character whose lifelong dream has to been to be a stay-at-home Mom and then, when her dream comes true, finds that the dream is not enough. Honestly it’s a painfully familiar and clichéd plot device. It shows up multiple times per year in cineplexes near you. The only difference here is that the dream is to be a mom instead of an astronaut, or an executive, or anything the world widely considers dream-worthy. But instead of pandering to the worthiness of the dream as critics are prone to do when the dream is inspiring enough (and in line with their criteria), they instead break out the set of steak knives that came free with their order of two sets of Sham-Wow! towels and began carving it up with gusto.
Not because the movie said all women belong at home, but because it suggested that desiring to be a stay-at-home mom was a worth-while aspiration.
If there’s a sexist to be found in the theater showing Mom’s Night Out it’s not on the screen, but rather in one of those plush seats with bubblegum stuck to armrest. Telling the story of a disillusioned stay-at-home mom is not sexist. Insinuating that she’s a disgrace to the fairer sex, however, is that and more.
*In the interest of fairness, it merits mentioning that Christian critics fall into this same trap. There is a real danger of over-moralizing a film review and ignoring the merits of the story and production in favor of over-emphasizing the level of “objectionable content.”
**We can and will discuss the general poor reputation of the faith-based film industry at another time. We also can and will take a look at how there is often too much pressure applied to the average church-goer to support poorly conceived and executed film productions.