Women, it used to be said, could not sell movies. This was a lie, but female driven comedies are becoming marginally more common. Studios are still learning their quality assurance, but a large amount of that is simply that any comedy is an experiment in failure. The indies, however have different ideas: with relatively low overheads and little need for effects shots, they can secure recognisable casts without looking cheap — and with fewer commercial expectations, they can swear. Oh, how they can swear. Fun Mom Dinner is a woman powered comedy that features a lot of c words.
Four moms whose children go to the same preschool get together for their periodical “Fun Mom Dinner”: the instigators of the night are the recently divorced Jamie (Molly Shannon, TV’s Divorce) and overly-zealous crossing safety guard Melanie (Bridget Everett, Lady Dynamite), and they’ve invited new-to-the-area Emily (Katie Aselton, Legion) and Emily’s friend, the haughty one that Jamie and Melanie don’t actually like, Kate (Toni Collette, Jasper Jones).
The main sign that Fun Mom Dinner is not a studio comedy is that is not that it’s without incident, but that its antics don’t tip over into the outlandish or violent. If you were hoping for a comedy that manufactured drama through accidental criminal witness and resolved its third act with an explosive shootout, Fun Mom Dinner is not going to tick that box. Given the screenplay’s provenance, as the debut work of Julie Yaeger Rudd (the wife of executive producer Paul Rudd, who makes a brief appearance on screen), it’s not surprising that low-level illicit substances play a heavy role, but they ultimately serve the characterisation rather than substituting for humour or event.
Australian director Alethea Jones, in her feature debut, has a solid grasp of the material, although a late-stage collusion between herself and Rudd to make the film more John Hughes-inflected reflects itself in a sudden jarring stylistic change, uncomfortably crossing the line from homage to emulation. Fun Mom Dinner is an actor-driven film, and there’s not a bad one amongst them. Everett in particular has a gameness and physicality that should translate into further roles. The animosity between the women does not last long and the film stands as something of a testament to female friendship, a quality that large swathes of media would have you believe doesn’t actually exist. As the semi-competent husbands who have a minor adventure of their own, Adam Scott (Big Little Lies) and Rob Huebel (Baywatch) anchor the movie while the rest of it is literally out to sea.
Fun Mom Dinner is a film that is undeniably funny, but it’s also something more than just sweet. It’s not a message movie, but it’s a movie that carries a message: simply by representing women in a somewhat realistic fashion on screen, it becomes important. That it’s entertaining is a bonus, and that it manages so much foul language without ever once seeming vulgar is a minor miracle, rather like the movie itself. Fun Mom Dinner is as the name suggests, and it’s one of those gifts you’re supposed to give yourself once a day.
Fun Mom Dinner screens at the Sydney Film Festival, June 7-18, 2017.
Directed by: Alethea Jones.
Starring: Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Bridget Everett, Kate Aselton, Adam Scott, Rob Huebel and Adam Levine.