A few minutes into “Moms’ Night Out,” its aim becomes clear: to be a wholesome, earnest alternative to such crude sisterhood comedies as “Bridesmaids” and “The Other Woman,” as well as an antic portrait of modern families to rival, well, “Modern Family.”
But this strained, clunkily orchestrated and dismally retrograde film — produced by one of its stars, Patricia Heaton — serves only to remind viewers why its metaphorical arms are too short to box with those predecessors. The story of a harried stay-at-home mother named Allyson (Sarah Drew), “Moms’ Night Out” trafficks in the most patronizing images of women, either as addled, neurotic control freaks or haplessly dizzy dames. The running gag about Heaton’s character — an otherwise earthy and wise pastor’s wife — is that she just can’t figure out texting on that newfangled contraption called a mobile phone. (Andrea Logan White plays Izzy, who has little to do except provide a foil for Allyson’s hysterical outbursts.)
The men in this shaggy-dog story of a Saturday night gone awry don’t fare much better: Sean Astin, as Allyson’s husband, plays a guy who’s on the road most of the week and spends his weekend evenings playing video games with his best bud (who hates kids). The controlling image of domestic life in this putatively pro-family polemic is that women are doing it wrong — by putting too much pressure on themselves not to do it wrong — and that, if they dare to ask their spouses to be equal partners, that’s sure to end in disaster as well.
Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin from a script by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell and Jon Erwin, “Moms’ Night Out” possesses the production values and awkward pacing of a lame amateur production with big ambitions. The film’s finest performance might belong to country singer Trace Adkins, who as a tattooed biker lends a pastoral ear to Allyson in her time of need, and comes up with some forgiving advice about being yourself and letting God take care of the rest.
Those are perfectly valid sentiments, of course, but couched within a frantically busy, patently false narrative they sound condescendingly preachy — not helped by the fact that Allyson herself comes across as a one-note caricature of self-pity and entitlement. Early scenes of her supposed “crazy” life — raising three bratty children in a spacious house in the suburbs, miserable because she has no time to work on her mommy blog — strike a particularly forced, fake-breathless note. In 1963, Betty Friedan called such craziness “the problem that has no name.” There’s no doubt that the problem still exists, but in this case, its name is “Moms’ Night Out.”
PG. At area theaters. Contains some thematic elements and mild action. 98 minutes.