Welcome To The Clam Jam: A Visit To The BAD MOMS Set
“I’m earning my paycheck today.”
This is Kathryn Hahn, after a group of journalists called her a hero for guzzling a gallon of watered-down soy milk in multiple takes on the set of Bad Moms. We’re in a grocery store called Breaux Mart west of New Orleans. Most of the freezers and shelves are stocked with catfish fillets, crawfish boil seasoning and etouffee bites, likely to be hidden in the scene since Bad Moms is set in Chicago.
Hahn is one of the three Bad Moms of the title. She plays Carla, a single mom who plays fast and loose with the traditional strictures of motherhood. She doesn’t care what the snobby mothers of her son’s high school classmates think of her. She’s currently wearing a tie-dyed bodysuit topped with a suede fringe jacket, and an enormous side ponytail that hides a roach clip. She rules.
Carla’s cohorts - a little newer to the idea that moms are allowed to have fun - are played by Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell. Bell is Kiki, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her four children (including a set of twins) and has a bullying husband who needs to be told to “put a sock in it,” says Bell, though Kiki's never tried. Kiki’s timid until she’s not. “Oh, her character?” Kunis laughs. “Her character’s crazy.”
Kunis is Amy Mitchell, Bad Moms’ lead, and despite Amy’s seemingly perfect life – great career, happy marriage, beautiful children, and oh yeah she looks like Mila Kunis – she’s ready to snap. She’s overworked and exhausted, and tired of forcing perfection in every aspect of her life. She finally meets her breaking point during a PTA meeting run by two mean girl moms (played by Christina Applegate and Jada Pinkett Smith, not on set the day we visited), and she makes something of a scene in front of the other moms. Kiki and Carla are impressed, and the three women team up to tear up.
The day in question is a grocery store rampage in which Kunis, Bell and Hahn attack a cereal aisle like it’s the apocalypse and these boxes of Fruity Yums, Frosted Flakes and Apple Zings are the only food left on the planet. They tear through aisles, hooting and hollering and horrifying other customers, except when they stop to coo over a baby in a stroller, to his mom’s consternation.
Without question, Hahn is the MVP today. Carla throws a ham over her shoulder, spins around an elderly grocery store employee and lays one on him. Writers and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore acknowledge that this scene is mostly improvised. “The ham was all her.” And the kiss was intended to be more of a peck, but a happy Louisiana extra is instead introduced to Kathryn Hahn’s tonsils.
And of course we’ve got the milk scene, in which the women spontaneously mix an alcoholic milkshake mid-air with a gallon of milk, bottles of Kahlua and vodka, and a whole lot of chocolate syrup. Hahn guzzles it, and guzzles it, and guzzles it. We all silently cheer and clap our hands over our mouths to keep from laughing aloud as we watch on the monitor. She’s amazing. She’s a treasure.
We’re not the only ones who think so: Bell and Kunis applaud her wildly after each take. It’s clear these ladies love each other. “It’s been a clam jam,” Bell said, and Hahn laughs. “Yeah, a total clam jam. I feel blessed that it’s such a low-maintenance group of ladies. The hair and makeup trailer is so fun every day.”
They all talk about how great it is to be in a movie starring almost entirely women. Hahn says, “I think about the movie, and I don’t think I’ve had one talking scene with a male actor.” She switches to a sexy voice and jokes, “I mean, I’ve had some non-talking scenes. But that’s pretty amazing… We can dive into the deep end fast. VERY fast. This is kind of where I want to live all the time anyway. It’s great. There’s not a lot of tiptoeing around. We just got real down and dirty.” Bell agrees. “It feels really sad that [the shoot is] coming to an end. It’s been like that,” she says as she snaps. Kunis added, “Yeah, this has been the fastest shoot I’ve ever been on. I’m actually sad about it [ending]. I’m very, very rarely sad about a shoot coming to an end, but I’m genuinely sad about this.”
Of course, there are at least two men on set (other than that elderly extra): directors Lucas and Moore, whom you might know from The Hangover trilogy. If that credit doesn’t inspire confidence in a film that is starring women, about women and for women, fear not. “They’re barely male,” says Kunis. Bell nods solemnly, “Anatomy only. And we can’t even confirm that.” Kunis: “It’s just a haircut, really.”
But the one thing all three women say about Lucas and Moore is that the men wrote Bad Moms as a tribute to their wives, and to their own moms. Lucas confirmed as much during our interview with them. “When we first started writing the script, we’re both married, we both have kids, and we spend a lot of time at home writing and sort of watching how hard it is for our wives to be moms. Everything they put up with, and the pressures they put up with to make sure the lunches are made, and the kids are getting to soccer practice, and they’ve done treats for the bake sale, and everything. [It was] just us sort of seeing how hard their lives are, and wouldn’t that be a great movie to explore that and to celebrate that. What if they got to take a break from that crazy life.”
Moore added, “Also, if we’re going to leave our families for two months to go shoot a movie, and leave our wives with our crazy children, it better be for something that’s celebrating them.”
Moore and Lucas’ wives both had passes at the script; they both added jokes and deleted jokes. “I think I have a pretty good ear for dialogue,” Moore said, “But there are definitely a couple of things in there that my wife was like ‘No no no. That’s a dude joke.’ And there’s definitely stuff that she added. We are happy to steal jokes from our wives.”
And from their stars – Lucas and Moore both acknowledged that the women making up their cast helped shape this story, their dialogue and their characters. They knew they could rely on the stars to do that because they were very careful in their casting. Lucas: “We sat down with a lot of women….I just remember sitting down with Kristen Bell and we were like ‘She’s so Kiki. Just even kind of the way she attacked the meeting.’”
Moore added, “And it wasn’t a criterion that we hire moms, but one actress who will remain nameless said, ‘Oh, I’m not a mom but I have a dog,’ [laughs] and we were like ‘Oh. That’s really, really different.’ So I think there’s a sort of thing about being a mom that’s intrinsic. I think people who aren’t moms play moms really Hallmarky and sweet, and I think people who are actually moms play it more badass and way more aggressive with children. They understand that it’s not all sweet moments, that most of parenthood, you’re chasing and you’re trying not to get angry. So what’s great about our cast, in my opinion, is that it’s six women [the five named above plus Bridesmaids screenwriter Annie Mumolo] who all have kids.”
Hahn, Bell and Kunis certainly had a lot of impassioned things to say about motherhood. On why they think Bad Moms is an important film for moms:
Kunis - “I think people like to know that they’re not alone. I think before when my parents were raising my brother and I, everything had to look perfect. Whether it was or wasn’t, you just didn’t air your dirty laundry, so to speak. And I think nowadays, if shit’s going wrong I call my best friend and I’m like ‘I dunno, there’s this color coming out of her nose, and I’m pretty sure she’s dying.’ And it’s okay to do that now, and I don’t necessarily know that it was okay to do that before.”
Hahn: “We live in such a crazy, child-centric culture. There’s this unobtainable perfection, there are SO many books. My mom had Dr. Spock, and that's it. It’s crazy, even just the blogging alone. There’s this perfection. Everything that you think you’re supposed to feel, even, or everything that you think you’re supposed to do, when you don’t match up you feel like a failure.”
Bell: "But this movie blankets the whole topic of motherhood in a way that the message is: ‘There are endless ways to do it. And however your gut is telling you to do it, that’s right.’ It’s a unifying message that we all feel less than, we all feel frazzled, we all feel overworked, and terrified that we’re messing up our humans. But that’s the beauty of this entire movie. It’s unifying. It’s like moms in solidarity."
On the state of childcare and parental leave in our country:
Bell: “The maternity leave in this country is a joke. And our paternity leave. And it’s not fair mostly to the kids.”
Kunis: "The childcare is, too. Women leave hospitals, and they’re just like ‘Bye, see you later.’ There’s nothing that’s provided, there’s no support group."
Bell: “It still takes a village.”
Kunis: “Yeah, it’s just now you have to pay for that village. You either leave your kid early and put him in childcare and hope that some stranger loves and cares for your child as you would, or you’re broke.”
Bell: “Right, or you can’t afford to have your child. That is not an appropriate decision. No mom in America should have to make that decision. It’s an unacceptable decision.”
On how they handle it when they reach their own breaking point as moms:
Bell: “Tapping out. My husband and I tap out and take mini-meditative breaks. Because we have two toddlers. They’re so fucking loud. And we keep an eye on each other. Where we’ll go ‘Oh, okay, you can take a break. I’ll take over.’ You step in. When you’re in the ring, you’ve got to tap out with your partner.”
Kunis: “Alcohol. Lots of alcohol. I’ve only got one little human, you’ve got two, and I’m very lucky. I do have an amazing husband. My parents live in the same town as I do, I think I’m very lucky. And she’s only 17 months old. She’s not quite…she’s rambunctious, but she’s not there yet, where she’s 2 ½ and I’m like ‘Holy shit, this demon baby’s coming out.’ We haven’t quite hit the demon stage yet.”
On dealing with judgmental moms, and the perception of perfection:
Hahn: “I find the vast majority of people who are judging are just fearful and insecure. I feel like you’re just justifying your own way of doing it. I think some of those women just have to believe that the way that they’re doing it is the only correct way, because that’s the way they’re doing it. So they have to justify it. I used to take it very much to heart, because I felt like my kids were just fleabags, just a mess. I couldn’t believe the moms who showed up with, not only their hair and makeup perfect, but the children, with their hair brushed, with a clip in it that the kid doesn’t rip out. I was just in awe of that, and the perfect bento box lunches. But just, you know, who cares, really? You find your tribe, and you stick with them.”
Bell: “People cling to groups, like monkeys want to live in smaller groups. It’s very scary when we’re all, wonderful as it is, connected. So you’re struggling for your own identity, because you need that. But that’s the great thing about this movie. It’s a reminder that we’re all on the same team. We’re ALL on the same team, guys. As women, as moms, as friends.”
Hahn: “It’s the competitive energy that is so destructive. It’s like you said: ‘We’re all in it together.’ You only are a mommy in this way for such a brief amount of time anyway. You don’t want to look back and be like ‘Ugh, why did I care about that stupid nonsense.’ Who cares?”
And, of course, we asked if any of these three mothers, movie stars, friends, had a moment where they felt like a bad mom. Simultaneously, they all replied, “No,” then cracked up. Hahn sighed, “Never.” Kunis: “We’re all perfect.” Bell nodded. “I may not be perfect, but I feel perfect, and that’s all that matters.”
Bad Moms is in theaters July 29. Check out the red-band trailer below.