It’s safe to say that “Moms’ Night Out” was made with an eye toward having life imitate entertainment. Deserving moms everywhere can take a Mother’s Day breather by catching a movie — about similarly deserving moms marking the holiday by cutting loose for one evening. What better way for women on the verge — the wall-crayoning, potty-playing, chaos-raining verge — to celebrate?
Look out, “Bridesmaids.” Except “Moms’ Night Out” isn’t selling that brand of crazy at all, just a tame facsimile suitable for Affirm Films, Sony Pictures’ religious-demographic division.
Sarah Drew (“Grey’s Anatomy”) plays Allyson, mother to three rambunctious young kids, and slave to constant self-doubt. Why can’t she keep up? Why do the other moms look so put together? Why is her house always such a mess? (Looks pretty HGTV-perfect to us; hard to tell whether the filmmakers are making a statement.)
At the urging of her supportive husband (Sean Astin), Allyson agrees to take a night off, and hit a Groupon-friendly dinner hotspot with a fellow mom (Andrea Logan White). Their irony-free definition of getting wild includes inviting along their pastor’s wife (Patricia Heaton), who’s got her own issues wrangling her teenage daughter. (Heaton’s TV gig on “The Middle” is a collection of family-life observations keen enough that you wonder why she couldn’t have injected more of that wry sensibility here.)
Vanilla wackiness ensues. Allyson flips when her reservation is botched. The ladies learn that Allyson’s baby nephew has been left with tattoo artists as sitters. The dopey husbands make a mess of their own babysitting assignment. There’s a minivan chase. Everyone lands in jail. Outrageousness never felt so dull.
The movie wants to deliver a message: Mom, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes — you’re still a good parent, and God is completely fine with the job you’re doing. Which is valid — and nicely stated, actually, in a quiet scene between Allyson and the tat guy (country singer Trace Adkins). But in addition to affirmation, how about a little escape? The filmmakers miss the point that comedy with something sharper than a butter knife’s edge can also be good for a frazzled mother’s soul.