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Ebiri: Moms’ Night Out Reminds Mothers to Just Stick to Their God-Given Jobs and Stay at Home

A faith-friendly version of a girls-behaving-badly comedy, Moms’ Night Out is a weird mix of tired jokes, topicality, and crippling anxiety. If the concept of a moms’ night out is premised on the notion that mothers can never get away for fear their families will collapse in their absence, then this movie cruelly confirms that fear. No, the fathers really don’t have any idea what they’re doing. No, nobody out there besides you has any concern for the well-being and safety of your child. And besides, yes, you really are too incompetent to go out to a simple dinner with your friends. Just stick to what God put you on Earth to do and raise your kids.

Okay, it’s not quite as mean-spirited and indignant as that. But judge the evidence for yourself. Our hero here is Allyson (Sarah Drew), a wannabe mommy blogger who introduces herself to us by presenting, in voice-over, all her many anxieties. She’s a clean freak constantly worried about the germs her three kids will ingest if she doesn’t keep the place spotless. (“I can actually feel the house getting dirty. It’s like I have nerve endings in the carpet.”) But she’s also terrified her kids will consume her cleaning supplies. And get salmonella from playing with their food. And have their souls corrupted by husband Sean’s (Sean Astin) violent video games. And get introduced to the wonders of knives by Sean’s best friend Kevin (Kevin Downes). In short, she can’t relax, and she hates herself. “I am terrible in every way! Do not celebrate me!” she tells her family on Mother’s Day. Does this movie have any idea how dark it really is?

To cut through all this self-loathing just a little bit, Allyson, her friend Izzy (Andrea Logan White), and Sondra (Patricia Heaton), their pastor’s wife, plan a night when they’ll dine out at a chichi local restaurant. The husbands will take care of the kids. Even Allyson’s young sister-in-law Bridget (Abbie Cobb), whose infant she often babysits, will have to find someone else to take care of her baby. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Allyson screws up the reservations, while, in her absence, everything does spin out of control — starting with Bridget’s baby, who gets passed to an ex, who passes it to a tattoo-parlor manager, who passes it to a different ex, who decides to relapse into alcoholism and goes out drinking. Everybody goes off to find the baby, and “chaos reigns,” to quote another recent-ish film that secretly put mothers and women in their place. Is that too harsh? For all the strained, shrill levity of Jon and Andrew Erwin’s direction, what we’re watching feels less like a wild comedy and more like a confirmation of all of Allyson’s fears — the nightmare of what happens when moms dare to take time for themselves, or, in Bridget’s case, go off to work. The whole film is steeped in a terror of the world beyond the walls of the home and the church.

Part of this is obviously comic necessity; there’s no movie if things don’t spin out of control. Which would be fine if any of it were funny. But this is the kind of movie in which someone will say, “You know what, ladies? Tonight is our night! And we look good!” as the film cuts to the three moms, all decked out and walking down the street in slow-motion, until one of them stumbles — a gag that stopped being funny around 1999. But I’m not sure if Moms’ Night Out ever really meant to be a comedy. Its strained sense of humor betrays the fact that, deep down, it wants to be a homily about everybody knowing their place in the world. “It’s a beautiful thing, watching one of God’s creatures doing what He made it to do,” Trace Adkins’s Biker Voice of Reason tells our heroine near the end. On the surface, it’s a touching sentiment, but think a little harder about it and something troubling emerges.