May 23, 2014

Mom’s Night Out

by Jesse Johnson

The company that made Courageous, October Baby, and FireProof released a new movie this month: Mom’s Night Out. I don’t often review movies, but I wanted to write about this one because of how it got slammed by main-stream reviewers as sexist and condescending. The truth is, the movie is anything but and those reviews really serve as a reminder of how disconnected the entertainment culture is from a Christian world view.

MNO_wp1_widescreenEach of Provident Film’s releases is better than the one before, and this movie is no exception. It is the first of their films to use a cast of already familiar secular actors (such as Sean Astin from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Trace Adkins from Lincoln Lawyer, who join a few of the regulars from other Provident movies) as well as a soundtrack filled with popular secular songs. It is well written, well acted, and easily the most produced of Provident’s films so far.  

It is still obviously a Christian movie—and by “Christian movie” I mean it presents a Christian world-view, Christian values, and a Christian message. This is a movie that is only likely to be enjoyed by believers. So much of the content, from the plot to the jokes to the characters themselves, will really only resonate with Christians.  That’s because In order to enjoy this movie, you need to be familiar with a culture that has stay-at-home moms, hard-working dads, and pastor’s wives.

Here is a litmus test: does a mom having a new mini-van count as A) a blessing, or B) an indicator of an unfortunate stage of life? If you answered B, this movie is not for you.

The plot is somewhat simple. A stay-at-home mom and wannabe Mommy Blogger has reached a point in her personal life where she needs a break. She convinces a friend to go out on a mom’s night together, and then they invite the pastor’s wife to join them. They arrange for the husbands to watch the kids, and then set out for a night of fun. The evening itself is marked by misfortune that is somewhat predictable—the reservation gets messed up, a pet dies, a child goes missing, and so does the minivan. All of these events uncover the heart attitude of the wannabe Mommy Blogger—namely, she has impossible standards for herself. She really, really, really wants to be the perfect mom, but she just isn’t good enough. “Good enough for who?” someone else finally asks her.

This plot can make sense to anyone, but is probably only fully appreciated by Christians. Mainstream reviewers slammed the concept that moms are better at caring for kids as “ugly sexism,” or “stereo-typical and condescending.” One reviewer wrote that the stay-at-home mom and the hard working dad:

“aren’t caricatures, per se, but in the behavior-reinforcing fashion of simple sitcom, we see an unflattering portrait of brittle, hostile, hustling, neurotic modern suburban control freaks.Who ought to listen to their man, and the Father.”

When I read reviews like those, it dawned on me that many people just simply wouldn’t get the point. They thought it was esteeming a controlling and perfectionist mother, rather than describing motherhood! And that observation in-turn reminded me that I can’t remember another movie that presented a hard working dad and stay-at-home mom as a good thing. If that couple makes a Hollywood appearance at all, it is usually in a negative light.

Mom’s Night Out is a comedy. But it is a comedy that is actually funny, and particularly if you are in the stage of life where you have a few kids, and the idea of a night away from them sounds both fun and impossible. In fact, I don’t think I would have found this movie funny 2 years ago. But at the point of life where I am now, with three kids and a crazy schedule, the tone of the movie was spot-on.

Some reviewers point out that because everything went wrong, the lesson the movie was subvertly trying to give is that moms should NOT try and get out for a night. As in, “look, they tried to have fun and instead a kid got stuck in a vending machine!” (But who of us has not had one of our kids get stuck in a vending machine?) Yet that is the opposite point the movie made. The plot was there for the humor, and the obvious moral was that being a mom is hard, should be esteemed, and that God gives grace to those who serve him—especially to mothers.

That is not to say that this was a perfect movie. Some of the plot twists were a bit outrageous, not the least of which was the biker gang scene at the end (and in fact, that cheesiness in the plot is also responsible for some of the negative reviews–see this one by Mike McGranaghan, for example). Bones, played by Trace Atkins, was a bit  of a surreal character even for a comedy; I still can’t figure out if he was supposed to be helpful or evil—I mean isn’t he the one that lost the kid to begin with?

But with that said, I’d encourage any couple at this stage of life to see Mom’s Night Out. Provident Films partnered with MOPS to market the movie, so if there is a MOPS group in your church it is likely that others have seen it. If you are looking for a movie from a Christian world view that will make you laugh, and make it worth it to get a sitter for the kids, then don’t be deterred by the low reviews this got. Just make sure you leave the baby sitter with the mini-van.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Mike McGranaghan

    While I respect your point of view, the dishonesty of your piece needs to be pointed out to your readers. For starters, you commit a major journalistic no-no, which is to take statements out of context to make them fit your point. I wrote one of the reviews you cite, and when I used the term “generally obnoxious,” I was clearly referring to the style of filmmaking (the freeze frames, cutesy graphics, etc.) and *not* to the concept of stay-at-home mothers. You’ve made it seem as though I was bashing women who stay home to raise their children, which I most certainly was not. You similarly misappropriated the other critics. The “ugly sexism” of the first quote referred to the portrayal of the husbands in the film, not the women. The third critical quote is the most manipulated. The critic’s actual words were “Allyson and her friends aren’t caricatures, per se.” The words “backwards and dated” are not used anywhere in his review. You’ve added them and implied that he *was* calling them caricatures.
    The other, equally disturbing dishonesty is the unspoken suggestion that mainstream critics can’t also be Christians. In fact, one of the reasons I was assigned to review “Moms’ Night Out” for Film Racket is because I *am* a Christian, and I’ve extensively written about faith films for that website and several others. It is entirely possible to be a Christian and still think a Christian movie is bad. If anything, we as Christians ought to be *more* demanding of these films. In order for them to truly break out into the mainstream and affect more people with their wonderful messages, they’re going to have to get a whole lot better than they generally have been. That means better scripts, betting acting, better direction, and themes that are woven more organically into the material. A faith-affirming message alone isn’t enough.
    There is no scheme among mainstream critics to sink this, or any other Christian-themed film, despite what some might like to believe. Even the target audience has rejected “Moms’ Night Out.” After two weeks in theaters, it has made less ($7.7 million) than “God’s Not Dead” and “Heaven is for Real” made in their opening weekends. This is the result of poor word of mouth.
    Again, I’m glad you liked the film and I appreciate your attempt to support Christian cinema. But if we’re going to keep these films coming, there needs to be a level of honesty about them. Trying to make it look as though mainstream critics are out to get them is hurting, not helping, the cause.

    • Anonymous IV

      I just read your review and the term “generally obnoxious” came in the concluding sentence of your review, not in the paragraph about the style of flimmaking. That may have been what you were referring to, but it didn’t come across. Have to defend Jesse on this one…

      • Mike McGranaghan

        Of course it’s in the section about the filmmaking. The whole review is about the filmmaking! That’s fundamentally what a movie review is. Even if, for some reason, a reader couldn’t grasp that point, it doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Johnson distorted and manipulated my words (and others’) to make it seem as though we were criticizing stay-at-home mothers, which is patently untrue.

    • Thanks Mike for your gracious interaction here. I made some changes in the review above to reflect your comment.
      I will say this–I’m no movie expert, but I did have an email exchange with someone who is not a Christian and who is one of the more well known movie reviewers, but who passed on reviewing this one. He pointed out to me that in this genre, an absurd plot, the suspension of belief, or the idea that “if any charachters had a brain” they would solve the problems that are driving the plot…that those are staples for the genre. That is sort the point–as long as the movie is funny, it works. Obviously funny is subjective. I thought this movie was funnier than the reviews allowed, that the absurdity in the plot required by genre is what got it slammed (mixed with gender issues), and that Profident’s films keep getting better while their reviews keep getting worse.
      That said, you are absolutely right–it was wrong for me to imply that the reason for bad reviews is a lack of faith.

      • Mike McGranaghan

        Thank you kindly for making those changes. It is much appreciated.
        Obviously, I don’t know who that other critic is, but I’m glad he/she recognized their own bias enough to not attempt a review. That was the right call. I know several others who did the same thing.
        And you are correct: funny *is* subjective. Many people in my screening laughed at the film, and I find no fault with anyone who enjoyed “Moms’ Night Out.” We all like what we like, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
        Again, thank you for addressing my points.

  • I understand your point, Jesse, but when a movie makes an attempt to portray who Jesus is and does it wrongly, that makes it less of a Christian film and more of a moralistic or religious film. Bones’ portrayal of Jesus was not the Christ of scripture, but the Jesus of the universalist-just-ask-him-in-your-heart crowd.

    And I anticipate and do not buy the argument that that scene was only meant to be Bones’ opinion of religion. That was the core message of the movie – the gospel of MNO – a false representation of the gospel.

    But I found it to be a fun and safe movie for discerning people, and better, less depraved entertainment for a heathen friend that what is typically offered in our culture.

    Sadly, Sherwood pictures has gone away from clear and bold presentations of the gospel (Fireproof) to a more watered-down Catholicky-accepted but still decent gospel (Courageous) to teaming with false converts or undiscerning folks like Heaton and the Erwin brothers.

    • Michael, I think you have a pretty good summation of the situation. By the way, one of my main problems with “Courageous” was the ridiculous “resolution” to do just what Scripture tells you to do anyway, and the idea of a father virtually having an “engagement” with his daughter to allow him to guard her heart. Shades of the legalistic Gothard/Vision Forum/Quivering Daughters/Purity nonsense.

  • The whole ‘mom’s night out’ idea to me seems to speak of the working Dad who’s completely worthless at home, never cooks, never cleans, never changes a diaper. What I think is far more practical and valuable is for a Dad to take the initiative, turn off the stupid television and be a little more active around the house, and instead of sappy ‘mom’s nights out’, take your wife out for a weekly date night. Much better for a marriage ultimately.

    • Well said, Johnny.

    • OldYRRTheologian

      Yes, if growing a marriage is the point of a mom’s night out. However, if the point of a group of moms getting together and going out is to reinforce female relationships, a weekly date night isn’t going to do any good. A mom’s night out isn’t about getting Dad to put in his fair share, but about getting away with some female friends for conversation and friendship building without the distraction of children. Not every Christian movie that has male actors has to be about building marriage relationships.

  • tovlogos

    I take no issue with your perspective, Mike; whether I agree or not. As a sidebar, there is no doubt that the world, prophetically speaking, is most definitely out to get Christianity; and any thing that is dear to God. You know that.

  • While the movie was somewhat enjoyable, I was irritated by the mom having virtually no clue about housekeeping and child discipline. And the premise of the father who doesn’t do anything around the house. And then the father who was afraid to be left alone with the kids. Too much stuff like that was nothing but a reminder of how Hollywood denigrates the family. Hollywood always shows fathers as virtually worthless dunderheads, which pretty much is how this movie showed them. I really found it difficult to like the self-centered whining mom.

  • Blessed SAHM

    Jesse, thanks for your thoughts and for giving this movie more attention. I really enjoyed the movie and I think others are being rather harsh in their critiques. Was it over the top? Of course, but it’s a comedy…secular films are just as outrageous and they don’t seem to get backlash for it because everyone knows that it is supposed to be over the top. I really liked the fact that it was funny without demeaning any one demographic. I disagree with those who say it put working fathers in a bad light. Were the dads nervous about taking care of the kids by themselves? Yes. Did that change the fact that they were willing, even encouraging their wives to have a night out despite their fears? No! I just went away for a night with my girlfriends and my husband stayed with our two year old. He was a little nervous about it, but that doesn’t make him incompetent. I also liked that they didn’t get into any sort of “stay at home moms” vs. “working moms” stuff. I saw movie sometime in the past year that portrayed the stay at home moms as shipping their kids off to school, spending all day at the gym, picking their kids up and running them around to activities until it was bedtime. In the meantime, the working mom slaved away at her job, spent what little time she had at home engaging with her kids and then making homemade cookies for the school bake sale after putting her kids to bed. Totally unfair comparison. This movie did not incite any “mommy wars” in any way and I really appreciated that. There is enough of that going around without Hollywood adding pressure. This movie definitely had its extreme moments, but overall I thought highly esteemed moms and dads and was generally just a fun and feel good movie. Ha, didn’t mean to write a novel here…you just got this stay at home mom on a roll 🙂

  • You’re right, Jesse. The movie was spot-on for those who are in a similar season of life with a Christian worldview. Having 3 little ones myself with a wife who labors HARD at home 24/7, we totally related to having paranoia of the kids getting salmonella poisoning. If you don’t remember, Trace Adkins’ character, in the end, turned out to be a good guy who is just “backslidden” (which is consistent with the filmmakers’ Arminian theology might I add).The last sentence in the film was…to put it gently…a wee bit man-centered: “I’m His masterpiece.” Overall, the film was fun and to a certain extent relatable to moms. Though these Christian films aren’t going to win any Academy Awards, I think it’s a good thing to support them. I’d rather see cheesy, clean films on a date night than compromise my conscience by seeing many of the current Hollywood blockbusters. Thanks for sharing!

  • I’ve been reluctant to see the movie because it seems to be a movie representing a certain Christian-ish subculture – predominately white, middle class, married and able to live on one income, caricatures of the roles husband and wives play in those contexts, etc. Consequently, the movie as described sounds like it could resonate quite as easily with Mormons as with Christians. It’s great that movies alluding to ands affirming Christian ideas are finding their way into the marketplace. But as Christians, we should be able to look at the way those ideas are being presented and then ask hard questions as to whether they truly represent a holistically Christian worldview, or just a slice or even caricature of it.

  • Wow. Honestly, I saw the movie and laughed throughout and took it for what it was. A slap-sticky, over-the-top move with the ability to make me chuckle and enjoy an evening out. It had endearing moments as well, and I don’t think it was being advertised as an evangelistic movie but more a fun, clean, safe-for-everyone movie. Chill, people! Jesse, good, accurate review.

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