Moms’ Night Out might be the best and most important Christian movie since The Passion of the Christ. While Gibson’s Passion made the life of Christ movingly real for modern viewers, Jon and Andrew Erwin’s Moms’ Night Out makes the real lives of modern Christians engaging, funny, and simply “okay” for viewers at the neighborhood cineplex.
Perhaps most poignantly, Moms’ Night Out establishes a new genre of movie for the contemporary landscape – a well-written, well-produced, and well-acted product that is both fun to watch AND biblically oriented. The basic storyline is simple – mom Allyson (played by Grey’s Anatomy’s Sarah Drew who is a Christian and a Presbyterian minister’s daughter) tries to have a night out with her mom-friends while leaving the kids in the care of the dads. The moms’ plans go awry when a dinner reservation is lost and a baby misplaced, and the dads (including The Lord of the Rings’ Sean Astin) have trouble without their wives’ childcare help, resulting in a series of wacky hijinks and tender moments.
Where the movie’s genre-creation succeeds most is in its balance of a Christian message with simply entertaining content. The writing is first and foremost heartfelt comedy (Trace Adkins’ tattoo-artist Bones inducing a welp or two at the end). And this comedy has some genuinely funny moments (Patricia Heaton’s Sondra commanding the majority of the hearty laughs). There is no profanity, no toilet humor, and no hypersexuality, proving that creative screenwriters have more to work with than the typical Hollywood product would suggest.
For many middle-America moms, the writing will hit home. They will laugh; they will identify; they will well up with a tear or two.
The writing parameters conspicuously hold to semi-conservative Christian principles with a simple message of God’s love for broken-and-beautiful people (especially moms). The religious language is not preachy, but it is clear. “I am right where I need to be, and God has given me everything I need to be a mom,” Sarah Drew’s character finally realizes. “I am a mess, but I’m His masterpiece, and that’s enough.”
Viewers without a Christian background will still be able to connect with the movie through Drew’s frazzled life and Heaton’s “must-be-perfect” burdens. Church-going viewers will of course grin at the Sunday morning scene in Act I of the movie, an Amy Grant reference in Act II, and the efforts of the pastor (merely a minor character in the film) in Act III.
Somewhat revolutionary for mainstream media is the portrayal of “normal,” everyday, modern Christians who are not naïve, inherently liberal, intolerant, or members of church clergy. Other than the Pastor’s wife (a rich character with much more room for exploration), the gang is made up of upper-middle class church member folk. They have a faith in God, but they still exist in the human world… with kids painting on walls, boyfriends keeping secrets (a la Glee’s Harry Shum Jr.), and parakeets refusing to stay in locked cages.
The movie is admittedly a little slow at the start, has a couple cringey editing moments, and treads glossingly over some tricky gender issues, but strong casting eventually wins out for viewers who give the movie a chance. Sarah Drew’s Grey’s Anatomy credits will connect with younger crowds, while Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton (also a Christian) shines for the middle-aged moms in the seats (eliciting a genuine guffaw from everyone in at least one theater audience during her Act III bowling alley dance). Country star Trace Adkins then completes the Ven diagram, an attempt to reach to a certain ticket-buying country-Christian base.
For any adult, church-goer or not, Moms’ Night Out simply offers a “clean” movie that is not animated with dancing bears or singing snowmen. In fact, in many ways the movie is not a religious movie; it is a clean-cut mom-comedy in which the main characters happen to be Christians. Church friends and non-Christian moms alike can chuckle-and-cheer at perils of motherhood (especially with the fantastic performance by the little Shiloh Nelson as Drew’s daughter Bailey). “They should play this every Mothers Day” one viewer said aloud as the credits began to roll.
While viewers will differ in their interpretations of the gendered messages in the movie, the film certainly offers no more dangerous views than the crudely sexualized humor of most other comedies lining the theater hallways, and there is more than enough life experience reflected in the movie to bring audiences together.
Whether the movie makes a splash at the box office may influence whether or not other studios follow Sony/Affirm Films’ and take on such Christian-but-normal projects in other genres. With only $6 million in its first week at the box office (against stiff competition like Godzilla and The Amazing Spider-Man 2) but a Topsy Twitter sentiment score of 80% positive, it will be a mix of fan, writer, and ultimately studio exec forces that determine the fate of the genre. Objectively, Moms’ Night Out certainly had room for improvement, but as the first major effort to offer a “normal” movie that treats a biblical paradigm as a legitimate writing choice, it is a success. Perhaps ultimately a big one.
But what did you think? Was the movie just what you needed? Do you hope to see more? Or was it too much and too cheesy for your tastes? Sound off in the COMMENTS below and be sure to FOLLOW above and on TWITTER!