What does “Bad Moms” have to say about dads?

Quick Answer: Despite its overt focus on mothers, Bad Moms also shows a variety of father tropes including the lazy dad, the domineering dad and the “hot widower.” Through these three fathers, the film sends a subtle message that the average father needs to be more engaged in active caring for his kids. But Bad Moms still gives underachieving dads some slack. Even the best dads in the film do not do as much as the “bad moms.”

In Ali Wong’s Netflix special Baby Cobra (2016), the very pregnant comedian has already grown wise to the lopsided ways of the parenting world wherein her husband receives praise for simply accompanying her to her doctor’s appointments. “I can already see how there’s this crazy double standard in our society,” Wong says, “of how it takes so little to be considered a great dad, and it also takes so little to be considered a shitty mom.”

The new film Bad Moms (2016) shows how this inequality only grows after the baby is born. Bad Moms follows Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis), an overworked and underappreciated mother of two who is fed up with trying to live up to the ideal of the “perfect mom.” Amy, her friends Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), and even the evil head of the PTA Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) all represent different ways of dealing with this societal pressure. Bad Moms recognizes just how hard motherhood is, for both working and stay-at-home moms, and tells moms not to be too hard on themselves if everything’s not perfect. But in a movie that’s all about moms, it’s also worth checking out what’s going on with the dads.

There are three fathers shown in Bad Moms: Mike (David Walton), Amy’s lazy husband; Kent (Lyle Brocato), Kiki’s overbearing husband who passes all of the childrearing responsibilities onto her; and Jessie (Jay Hernandez), the “hot widower.” While none of these dads are given nearly as much screen time as the moms, the way that they all approach fatherhood says a lot about the role of dads in reality and in the media.

Homer Simpson, the archetypal TV dad, on The Simpsons (1989 - )

The long-running joke about TV dads is that they are all bumbling, foolish men, à la Everybody Loves Raymond (1996 – 2005) and The Simpsons (1989 - ), whose innate incompetence leaves their capable wives stuck handling everything. Amy’s husband Mike follows this trope to a T. He is described as a successful mortgage broker, but he’s mostly shown lying around the house on his phone. Most of his scenes show him messily stuffing his face, a visual gag that is shorthand for a quick message: this man is a slob. When Amy tries to get his attention to tell him that their son got a “D” on his science quiz, Mike heartily congratulates the boy. Mike’s lackluster performance as a dad makes us wonder how he can really be so “successful” at work. Does he coast on some kind of nepotism or male entitlement? Or does he save his worst behavior for his home life?

Yet when Amy turns into a “bad mom” her kids run to Mike. After Amy bumps heads with the PTA President Gwendolyn, Amy’s daughter Jane is kicked off the PTA-sponsored school soccer team. Jane yells that it is all Amy’s fault and that even Mike – whom the audience has never seen do anything remotely parental – is a better parent than her.

David Walton, who plays bad dad “Mike” in Bad Moms (2016)

If Mike passively embodies the double standard described by Wong, Kiki’s husband Kent actively enforces it. When we first meet Kiki she is a meek, socially isolated stay-at-home mom whose entire life revolves around her kids. The reason why becomes clear the second we meet her domineering husband. When Kent catches Kiki out at brunch and she tells him that she has a babysitter watching their kids, he asks her forcefully whether that is supposed to be her job. Kent does not just expect his wife to do everything; he makes her do everything. His stern attitude towards his partner and his expectations of perfect domesticity make him a modern rendition of the classic “I wear the pants in this family” patriarch. Mike may be annoying, but Kent is cruel and oppressive—and seems to believe he’s living in another era.

Kent’s expectations versus reality

Both of these men find their foil in Jessie, the school’s resident hot widower. Jessie is never shown directly interacting with his kids – rather, he is shown talking to the other moms, his kids by his side like endearing props. But when he walks by with his daughter’s pink backpack on and makes a joke about it, it is clear that he is not afraid of being seen as un-manly because he is too busy caring for his kids. Jessie is the film’s only “good dad” and, as a single dad and primary caregiver, almost takes on the role of a mom in male form (at least in the vernacular of Bad Moms which reflects a still highly gender-traditional parenting world). It’s no wonder that he connects with all of the mothers, especially Amy; he understands what it’s like to take care of kids. “In male-centric films, you see that woman who loves football, is intelligent, can be funny and drinks beer,” Hernandez describes in the film’s production notes. “I’m the male version of that fantasy for females.”

Jay Hernandez, who plays the hot widower “Jessie” in Bad Moms (2016)

While Jessie may be a mom’s dream, Mike and Kent do care about their kids, too. When Amy kicks Mike out of the house for cheating on her, Mike comes back, saying that he misses the kids. He agrees to try marriage counseling, not for their marriage’s sake, but for the children’s. Likewise, Kent, in his own twisted way, thinks he is acting in the best way to ensure good care for his kids.

So what does Bad Moms think makes a good dad? Unlike many TV shows and films, Bad Moms doesn’t seem content with letting its fathers off the hook. Simply caring about their kids is not enough to redeem Mike and Kent in the film; they need to show it. One of the most revealing moments in the movie is towards the end, when we see Kiki dressed in something other than her standard mom garb, her husband pushing a stroller and carrying the kids’ bags. When they realize that he forgot one of their daughter’s backpacks in the car Kiki tells him to go get it, and he does. It’s a moment of neat reversal – with Kent stepping up as a dad, Kiki can finally relax about being a mom.

Still, the movie, while mostly sympathetic to the mothers, does cut the fathers some slack. Carla, the single mom of the film whose husband left her, is portrayed as a wild hot mess, whereas Jessie, whose wife passed away, is the “fantasy” father. Beyond that double standard, the very idea that an attractive, capable, hands-on male parent is a too-good-to-be-true fantasy used for comedic purposes, while those qualities are the default for mothers in TV and film, reveals an entrenched basic misogyny in media representations of parenthood. Likewise, the PTA meetings in the film, which represent an upper echelon of involved parenting, are entirely devoid of fathers. The gender world of Bad Moms won’t reflect the reality for all parents today, and fathers who do play an equal role in parenting may object that a more diverse array of families aren’t on display here.

But while the film could go further in its criticism of lazy fathers or portrayals of engaged ones, overall it calls for the average father to do more, just as it calls for the average mother to calm down and let herself do a little less.