by ETHAN PETERSON
Fun Mom Dinner
dir. Althea Jones
Kate (Toni Collette) and Emily (Katie Aselton) are the best of friends. Both actresses are substantially different looking than their usual cinematic representation in Fun Mom Dinner, the brilliantly morose comedy from first-time screenwriter Julie Rudd.
Here, Collette shows off her considerable glamour. So often made up as a kooky aunt, she has always been expert at obscuring her natural beauty, and it is a shocking thrill when she lets her hair down. At first we are led to believe Kate is the sort of mother who is openly contemptuous of others because she fears her own identity as a woman and mother may not be up to the task. This proves true, but even this simple psychological profile obscures an actual person. Trained screenwriters lazily cast stereotypes onto the page; Rudd has made actual women here.
But why does it matter what these women look like? We are so used to seeing them slip on one costume or another in their previous roles, that Fun Mom Dinner‘s presentation of Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton and Toni Collette as complete persons without any apology necessary includes aethestic considerations. An actor also, after all, must be nice to look at.
Director Althea Jones does marvelous things with light, and she does a capable job of making all these actors look like they are in a real, natural environment. Aselton is particular has mastered a charming sort of darkness, and Jones accentuates this by placing her in hidden positions that reflect her own insecurities. “Want to watch John Oliver?” her husband asks her before bed, in what feels like the worst nightmare imaginable.
As a rival mother who invites Kate and Emily to a lovely dinner, Molly Shannon makes for a realistic divorcee. Rudd writes all her characters with intense sensitivity, but Shannon’s single woman is such a nuanced character you almost can’t believe she is in a movie, let alone one that for the most part went straight-to-cable. Shannon’s character is close with Melanie (Bridget Everett). You can tell that Ms. Everett is still finding her sea legs as an actress after so many years of stand-up, but she has magnificent presence here, surprising us in scene after scene with her devotion to being herself.
Aselton plays off these other, mainly comic actors brilliantly. She had the good fortune of coming into her own as a performer at the same time her physical beauty, always intense, reached another level through the innate character provided by middle age. As I alluded, her husband Tom (Adam Scott) is a very serious piece of shit. Yet there is something about him possibly redeemable, which makes his desperately awful treatment of his wife so much worse.
It is probably smart to couch this serious, imaginative film in the language of a comedy along the lines of the almost unwatchable Rough Night to order to bring more eyes to it, but eventually I concluded the film’s title did something of a disservice to what it was offering to us as viewers. Still, there is nothing wrong with the silly and outlandish moments the film offers, and they usually come about in a real and earned way.
On some level, the concession to motherhood itself. Yes, women who are mothers have this overriding fact as a key aspect of their lives. Fun Mom Dinner does much to explode the idea that there is nothing else for people who value their families. The more I thought about that, it seemed like a worthwhile and somewhat rare message.
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.