“The key is sincerity, and once you learn how to fake that, you’ve got it made!”
Truer words were never spoken… in Hollywood.
Now that Tinsel town executives have realized the earnings potential of the faith-based film market, they are hell-bent to make Christian films. The trouble is, as I indicated in my last film review, "Noah’s Wild Ride," Hollywood struggles when producing content it cannot understand. And so it is with the tragically off-base "Moms’ Night Out."
The premier this week had an excellent turn-out, with a large and lively Hollywood/Christian crowd. The movie is a production of the faith-based division of Sony Pictures, Affirm, along with a whole host of other companies.
As the mother of three kids, a co-author of "The Answer: Proof of God in Heaven" and wife of the star of "God’s Not Dead," please allow me to take a moment to define the Christian film as a film that depicts (at least some) Christians in a positive light, tells an encouraging, uplifting message, and in some way helps to spread the "good news," or Gospel. Fantastic examples of great, faith-based filmmaking would be "What If..." or "Courageous."
Image source: MomsNightOutMovie.com
“Moms’ Night Out” tells the story of a young mother of three, who is entirely overwhelmed by her three adorable young children. Mom Ally, played by the talented Sarah Drew, confesses to be obsessed with cleanliness. All she desires is a single night out, just an escape from the daily grind of kids and cleaning and... Well, it isn't like she holds down a job, so she really just has the kids to look after every day. Her husband (adorable Sean Astin) travels and leaves her alone with the kids a lot, apparently. (As the wife of an actor, “been there, still doing that.”)
Ally goes to her chaotic, judgmental church, where we meet her two friends: a young mom of two whose husband literally fears children, and the pastor's wife (wonderful Patricia Heaton) who is obviously miserable, or, as they say in the movie, “stressed."
During their book club, while admitting to the audience she doesn’t read the books (hypocrisy, anyone?), Ally makes dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant for the "stressed" threesome. She noticeably doesn’t care to have a date night with often-absent hubby (who needs 'im?), but she does put on a smoking hot dress, bright red lipstick, and killer heels - for the girls. (Does anyone else find this odd?)
Actress Sarah Drew arrives at the Premiere Of TriStar Picture's 'Mom's Night Out' at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on April 29, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Credit: Valerie Macon/Getty Images
After admonishing her mate not to play his objectionably violent video games in front of the kids, and despite his eternally juvenile childhood friend’s assurances that is exactly what they are planning to do, she leaves the kids in the care of their nervous and obviously inept father (and his buddy). A “Christian” man is portrayed not only as a violent games addict, but as a man incompetent at caring for his children and dismissively disrespectful of his wife’s wishes. (At this point, I began to compassionately understand why she was at her wits’ end with stress...Not really.)
The fancy restaurant reservation is messed up, so Ally remedies the situation by insisting the gals all go bowling. There are some cute moments, and frankly I laughed a bit, but that was between bouts of frustration with the shallow, basically irredeemable “Christian” characters.
The responsibility-challenged sister-in-law needs someone to watch her toddler while she starts a new nighttime job, so she leaves the boy, Phoenix, with her baby-daddy. Normally, she simply imposes on push-over Ally to watch the kid for free. Baby-daddy has a date that night so he leaves the toddler with his tattoo-artist biker buddy (the charming Trace Adkins), who gives Phoenix to an alcoholic ex-girlfriend, who eventually leaves him with some neighbors (without telling anyone).
“Hilarity” ensues as the entire group of four frazzled women chase down the lost toddler. After an abysmal police car chase, they all somehow end up at the police station, where, in surprisingly the best scene in the movie, Trace Adkins reveals to our heroine that Jesus loves her, no matter what kind of screw up she is. (Sure… the guy who left the church is the one who has it all figured out.) At least we finally have some truth and a poignant moment that touches the audience!
Trackins in "Mom's Night Out." Credit: Sony Films.
Not worth the wait, sadly.
The moment is gone in the very next scene, when an anxious Ally hands her car keys to her girlfriend, insisting, "Can you look after my kids so I can take care of some other stuff, please?" (So… she actually does have friends on whom she can rely to give her a break from her burdensome children! There goes the premise of the movie.)
Ally then tells sister-in-law-missing-child she is a “really good mom!” The toddler is still missing! You're a good mom because you care. That's all it takes!
The pastor's wife, we discover, is tormented by the guilt from a tattoo she got as a rebellious young woman at Woodstock. Surprise, surprise, the “Christian guilt” card! (Obviously, life’s much better without morals or judgment.) As luck would have it, or maybe it’s just cliché film-making at work, simply the act of showing her daughter the decades-old artwork on her backside is enough to convince the girl her mom's always right. Uhm, no comment.
Ultimately, and through no great feat of the “good” mommy who lost her child, the toddler turns up at the anonymous but caring neighbor’s, though not before a drunken jerk gets plowed down by the cabdriver, complete with inert body flipping through the air (not funny, just shocking – like much of the rest of the film).
Abbie Cobb, left, and Sarah Drew in "Mom's Night Out." Credit: Sony Films.
In a time where Christian film production is gaining momentum, this film sorely disappoints. Worse, Christians may even be insulted. Compared to the unabashedly pro-God case made by "God's Not Dead," a movie that has audiences shouting, clapping, standing, and even texting its title after the film is over, "Mom’s Night Out" evidences almost exclusively misguided and miserable Christians, and presents the non-Christian as the man with the (wholly Christian) answers – not the pastor, who rides to the rescue with a full complement of police units and biker gang only to be proved superfluous and impotent to the task at hand. Yeah. The pastor can’t help.
The symbolism cannot be ignored. Hollywood struggles to depict happy, sincere, faithful, or even intelligent adherents to Christianity. It fails to understand faith, but more importantly intends to misdirect and deny that faith is an important component to happiness.
Like the popular TV show that dishonestly displayed how miserable suburban women are, this is "Desperate Christians." It’s even more desperate if the producers inserted some Christianity simply to cash in on the faith community’s thirst for decent entertainment.
Suffice it to say Hollywood has not yet mastered faking sincerity (or even decency). Perhaps Hollywood should just stick to faking the fake stuff, instead.
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