Sundance Review: FUN MOM DINNER

For fun moms!

There’s a lot of charm and heart in Alethea Jones’ Fun Mom Dinner, the latest entry in the worthy sub-genre of “moms get a damn break once in a while; shenanigans follow.” It’s not a comedy for everyone, and it’s not even really a comedy for me, but then, not everything has to be. Moms’ll love it.

Here are the moms: we’ve got Katie Aselton as Emily, a likable former attorney who recently moved to the same town as her best friend Kate (Toni Collette). Kate smokes pot and has a dirty mouth, and she’s completely over the whole “mom” persona, alienating her from the other moms at their kids’ school, especially Molly Shannon’s Jamie and Bridget Everett’s Melanie. Jamie’s recently single and pretty thirsty, telegraphing her every move on an oversharing Instagram, while Melanie is an ex-military badass who terrorizes as the school’s volunteer crossing guard. When they ask Emily to dinner, she drags along Kate, and after a bumpy start, the four women get stoned, drink and eat everything in sight and have the night of their lives.

Meanwhile, Emily and Kate’s husbands (Adam Scott as Tom and Rob Huebel as Andrew) stay home and watch the kids. Thanks to the stress from the move and his job, Tom barely looks at Emily anymore, much less touches her, but after realizing how much she does for their family thanks to a night of fending for himself, and after some pragmatic, actionable advice from Andrew (“Two compliments a day.”), Tom comes to a few revelations of his own. It’s about time, too, because Tom isn’t going to win over any women in the audience when he pats himself on the back for babysitting his own children. “It’s not babysitting when they’re your kids,” Emily tells him, and I’d wager there will be more than one mother who whispers it along with Aselton in the theater. (But don’t worry – the last scene we see of Adam Scott in Fun Mom Dinner is precisely engineered to restore your crush on him. It’s too impossibly cute to spoil here.)

The stakes are fairly low, as is the energy, until an ill-conceived action scene arrives seemingly out of nowhere near the end of the film. But at the same time, Emily’s self-esteem and quality of life are at stake, and Aselton sells the character easily enough, so we have no problem wanting her to be happy. And the film’s low-key meandering almost recommends it, compared to more manic versions of this story. Fun Mom Dinner won’t exhaust you, but it won’t exhilarate you either.

Julie Rudd (whose husband Paul cameos alongside David Wain as two fastidious proprietors of a marijuana dispensary) wrote the screenplay, and she seems to have a comfortable hold on the material. The moms’ scenes with their kids ring with a sort of tired truth, and we can’t help but be happy for them when they get a chance to break away and share some adult time for a change. These four actresses appear to have a good time together, and Fun Mom Dinner is scattered with moments, from karaoke to a gleeful Walgreens run, that will make you grin.

Still, overall, the film’s a little too vanilla and a little too sugary to recommend to everyone. It could use some tightening up and a bit more depth, but it’s got a great cast and some solid jokes, and I look forward to watching what Jones and Rudd do next.