Sometimes a film is precisely no more and no less than the sum of its parts, and that’s just fine. So it is with “Fun Mom Dinner,” a cheerfully scatty, diverting adult comedy that gives four lovably funny actresses some broadly silly, dirty material to play with, tosses in some on-brand mugging from their supporting males, copious time-capsule gags involving Instagram and vajazzling, plus the dreamboat distraction of Adam Levine in tight denim, and pretty much lets the math do itself. The result is a film that, for all its tinniness of craft and carelessness of storytelling, gets by on sheer force of personality; both feature film first-timers, director Alethea Jones and writer Julie Rudd have some formal finessing to do, but could prove a valuable team in a mainstream comedy landscape still short on loud, proud female voices. Momentum Pictures and Netflix have already snapped up distribution rights, meaning this girls’-night-out romp could well become a girls’-night-in favorite.
One of last year’s most abjectly depressing multiplex experiences was “Mother’s Day,” a grotesque holiday marketing conference of a film that squandered an ensemble of appealing women on a script with all the feminine insight of a Donald Trump love note. It’s a film to which “Fun Mom Dinner” — which would do well to grab a Mother’s Day release slot — acts as a kind of jaunty corrective, using the same ultra-bright suburban aesthetic and peppy, undemanding tone to ponder contemporary middle-class motherhood in a way that, if not exactly profound, is at least humanly recognizable. From the moment Toni Collette, an actress all but incapable of glib falseness, is shown blearily hobbling over scattered Lego pieces after a too-early wake-up call from her son, it’s clear that “Fun Mom Dinner” knows its subject, and its audience, with some affection.
Very much the MVP here, Collette’s Kate is the jaded outlier in the film’s quartet of frazzled mothers bound by the same elementary school — a funkily pragmatic parent whose idea of “me-time” is locking the bathroom door, slipping into a bikini and savoring a joint in an empty bathtub. Unlike her best friend Emily (Katie Aselton), who’s still nervously concerned with maternal convention, Kate has zero interest in bonding with the school-gate crowd, who include Instagram-obsessed divorcee Jamie (Molly Shannon) and feisty, officious volunteer traffic warden Melanie (Bridget Everett). After having four boys, Kate reasonably argues, she’s had her fill of “mom stuff”; the idea of getting together over cocktails to discuss PTA politics or mommy-and-me yoga fills her with panicked horror.
For Emily on the other hand, who misses her shelved law career and whose relationship with her husband (a reliably adorable Adam Scott) is at a sexless impasse, no new social opportunity is unwelcome. So when Jamie and Melanie invite her into their two-person circle of regular “fun mom dinners,” she gladly accepts — tricking Kate into coming along with her for a night while the men haphazardly mind the kids. (In one of the more pointed jabs at gender inequality in Rudd’s otherwise breezy script, Emily and her husband squabble when he refers to his evening’s work as “babysitting” — parents don’t babysit their own children, she tartly counters.)
The dinner starts on a decidedly un-fun note, with some choice sniping between Kate and Melanie; a bit of weed from the former’s well-stocked handbag, however, is enough to relax tensions and ignite an evening of bad behavior, beginning with the activation of the restaurant’s smoke alarm. Their antics are pretty tame relative to such women-unleashed comedies as Leslye Headland’s “Bachelorette,” and Rudd has a wobbly command of farcical structure: Events don’t connect and escalate as dizzily as they should, while there’s dead air (not to mention some unfinished punchlines) in a number of Jones’s comic setpieces. A marina-set climax that entails random yacht-chasing, inevitable drenching and the obligatory game of “Never Have I Ever” is disappointingly low in energy and stakes, beyond an unconvincing romantic subplot that briefly permits Emily the luxury of choosing between Adams Scott and Levine — who, as a leather-jacketed barman, serves chiefly as highly decorative, smartly focus-grouped set-dressing.
But “Fun Mom Dinner” is a meal of savory appetizers, not hearty cuisine — it works (or occasionally doesn’t) on a moment-to-moment basis, and some of those moments are pretty damn tasty. If you find nothing to smile at in Collette and Aselton launching into a drunken, full-lunged karaoke rendition of Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” or a gurning Shannon taking one failed attempt after another at a sexy Tinder selfie, or Paul Rudd (the writer’s husband) turning up as an hipster artisan marijuana dealer (“We call this one the Ruth Bader Ganja, because it gives you a Supreme high”), then it’s safe to say “Fun Mom Dinner,” with its sitcom timing and antiseptic score, isn’t your jam. For everyone else, it should slip down as easily as a screw-top bottle of supermarket red. Unlike the red, however, there’ll be nothing to remind you of it in the morning.