Moms' Night Out, the movie starring Sarah Drew ("Grey's Anatomy") opened over the weekend, right in time for Mother's Day. And Christians filled theaters to see it. The film is clean, it's funny…and it's also a missed opportunity.
Drew’s character, Allyson, and her two friends — played with expert performances by Logan White and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond)— want just one thing: a peaceful night out eating food off a menu while enjoying uninterrupted adult conversation. But for that to happen the dads have to parent their kids for three hours. And they are incapable of doing so without endangering their offspring.
The film is billed as a “true-to-life comedy that celebrates the beautiful mess called parenting,” but most viewers will see little in the parenting that feels “true to life.” For starters, the husbands "babysit” (yes, they actually use that word) rather than “parent” while their wives go out. And the dads of small children in this film are so inept at fathering that they don’t even know their families’ emergency contact numbers. Naturally, the fumbling guys leave their kids with strangers and shady characters, and at least one child goes missing. But that’s the risk moms take when they abandon their children for a little “me” time, right?
The film, directed by the Erwin brothers (October Baby), is a cut above most Christian movies in that it has excellent production values and solid acting. Drew demonstrates an impressive range of talent; country music singer Trace Adkins as Bones is believable as the unexpected voice of wisdom (though one wonders why in a “mom” film the voice of wisdom is a single guy); and Heaton delivers comedic lines with expert timing. Also, the positive portrayal of younger BFFs wanting to hang out with an older woman comes as a positive surprise.
Still, this offering in the underserved women’s comedy genre is a lost opportunity. Allyson’s husband, Sean (Sean Astin, Lord of the Rings), gives only lip service to his appreciation for her hard work as a mother (“Your job is important”). His cheerleading when she’s beyond frazzled rings hollow coming from the guy who spends weekends playing first-person shooters with his bud. Who does all the parenting while he does his thing? She does. And instead of presenting a full mother/father partnership as the solution to Allyson’s harried life, the remedy is for Sean valiantly to cover her childcare shift for three hours while she goes out with the girls. One viewer mumbled sarcastically, “As if it can all be solved in one night.”
While affirming the difficulties inherent in mothering, the film offers no hint that part of the problem is the husbands’ lack of agape love, sacrifice, and commitment to fathering. At no point do viewers get a picture of shared parenting as God’s vision for the family. Sean’s character sympathizes with his wife, but his only action is to encourage her and agree to give her a three-hour break — and even that he seems to view as filling in for “her” job. Yet, incredibly, he is portrayed as being a stellar guy for doing so. In a film designed to honor mothers?
At one point Allyson’s character says to her pastor’s wife, “I am listening to my husband, Sondra. It’s biblical, right?”
Sondra replies, “It is biblical.”
The context is banter, but viewers unfamiliar with a biblical view of marriage receive only a presentation that suggests the Christian ideal is the wife caring for kids and listening to her husband while the husband does what he wants. The mom in this model is a lead parent. The dad is served, not servant.
Neither script nor plot would have required an overhaul to present an Ephesians 5 sort of mutuality with “love” and “lay down his life” as Sean's part of the partnership. A conversation at the end between husband and wife provides the perfect chance for him soberly to acknowledge his responsibility. But instead, his support remains in the realm of deedless words.
Viewers who can overlook Mom’s Night Out’s view of marriage and parenting will enjoy its comedic elements. A satirical scene highlighting restaurant snobbery delivers a satisfying touché, and the film includes many other laugh-out-loud moments. So go see Mom’s Night Out for the humor.
Just don’t go expecting to see a mess of parenting that’s “beautiful.” For that to happen, Sean would have had to commit to Dad’s Weekends In.