Movie director Jon Erwin is charging that overt media bias and an inability to understand Christian audiences are at the heart of film critics' negative reviews of "Moms' Night Out," his new comedy about an evening of chaos when a group of moms attempt to have a fun night on the town.
But despite critics' reviews, including at least one charge that it's "anti-feminist," audience members have raved about the film's faith and family-friendly message. Eighty-five percent of theatergoers gave "Moms' Night Out" a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes; it has also earned a 7 out of 10 cumulative rating on the Internet Movie Database.
While neither site's online rankings are scientific, there's a stark disparity between the positive critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes -- just 16 percent -- and on the cumulative metric on IMDb, with 25 out of 100.
Image source: Rotten Tomatoes
Erwin, who co-directed "Moms' Night Out" with his brother Andrew Erwin, told TheBlaze that he's totally perplexed.
He said his digital team has never seen such positive word-of-mouth on a film, which was screened for 20,000 people before its release. No one ever claimed that it was "anti-feminist," Erwin said, until the media's reviews emerged this week.
"We heard over and over again ... moms love it," he said. "They said it was their story."
But critics have come away with a very different take on the matter. Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com lambasted the film as "depressingly regressive and borderline dangerous," saying that it "peddles archaic notions of gender roles in the name of wacky laughs."
She continued: "The ultimate message here is unmistakable, regardless of your religious beliefs: A woman’s place is in the home, not out on the town."
The title of Inkoo Kang's review for The Wrap essentially summarized her views in three key words: "Unfunny and Anti-Feminist."
"This ostensible femme-powerment film is strangely unsympathetic, even demeaning, to its target audience," Kang wrote. "Rather than pandering to moms, this unfunny, unabashedly anti-feminist comedy consistently points out how wrong or unnecessary or ungrateful they are."
These critics' reviews, among others, account for the low scores from industry insiders, but if what Kang and others are saying is true, then why is the target audience -- the faith and family-friendly cohort -- responding so favorably?
As of Tuesday morning, more than 1.3 million people were talking about "Moms' Night Out" on Facebook. Here's a sample of some of the positive comments Erwin said his team has been flooded with:
Image via Moms' Night Out/Facebook
"What you see is a group of underserved people who have not felt appreciated who now have an outlet and a voice and an ability to celebrate themselves," Erwin said of the fans' positive reviews. "Hollywood and the mainstream press doesn't understand these people."
Erwin believes that critics' attacks on the movie are based more on taking aim at a way of life than they are at the actual tenets of the film.
"My wife's a stay-at-home mom. We're conservative Christians ... there's millions of people just like us and we're underserved," he told TheBlaze. "To have critics saying that we're insulting and that it's sexist just to portray a stay-at-home -- that we are we insulting just for living our lives ... that's alarming to me."
Erwin said he was "blown away" by the fact that critics seemed to go after stay-at-home moms by claiming that the movie, which simply portrays their lifestyle, is "anti-feminist."
"I think we all want to live in a country where no one's bullied for their way of life and that should extend to moms," he told TheBlaze. "Every woman should be free to choose her way of life ... and I think this word 'tolerance' should be enforced in this regard."
Specifically dismissing claims that the movie is sexist, Erwin noted that at no point does the main character -- or any character for that matter -- make the claim that others should be stay-at-home mothers; the character simply happens to be a stay-at-home mom.
"If at any point in the movie the stay-at-home mom [and protagonist], Allyson, said, 'This is how you should live life,' then there would be grounds for some of this stuff. But that's not in the movie," Erwin added. "And the movie features a single mom, a full-time working mom -- and they support and encourage people throughout the film."
Borrowing words from Walt Disney, Erwin said that despite being stunned by negative reviews, he and his brother are not here to entertain the critics. Instead they're forging on, encouraged by fans' positive reviews.
"The message that I would deliver to critics is that I think we should embrace the ideal that every woman is free to choose whatever life she feels like she wants to live," he said. "And that we believe in a world where no one should be bullied for their way of life and that should extend to stay-at-home moms and it's obviously not right now."
Erwin has also passionately spoken out about the need for Hollywood to rediscover its "soul" by producing fulfilling and positive content that helps build moral character.