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Spot the difference: how Bad Moms borrows its emotional climax – and everything else – from Mean Girls

It won’t reach the sanctified pop culture status of Mean Girls, but the influence of Tina Fey’s film is obvious, over 12 years on.

“I’m not, like, a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.” Amy Poehler’s turn as an overly-permissive, desperate to be liked mother in Mean Girls is one of those culture moments burned into our brains. Her role was brief, but threatened to upstage the film’s younger cast. A few years ago, it emerged that a film based on Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads, (the sequel to the book Mean Girls was based on, Queen Bees and Wannabes) was in the works, called Mean Moms. And now we have Bad Moms.

In the words of Alison Herman at the Ringer, Bad Moms is the summer’s latest “Wokebuster”: a “lightly feminist” blockbuster that is “theoretically about social progress and dismantling gender norms”, but in practice reinforces the same premises it claims to challenge. It follows a group of three women, Amy, Kiki and Carla, as they realise that they can never meet societal expectations of “good” motherhood, and decide to embrace being bad mothers. (If Amy is meant to be a representation of a bad mother, it fails abysmally – instead Mila Kunis, an archetypal Cool Girl herself, actually plays a Cool Mom like Poehler’s, driving her kids to school in a sports car, feeding them fast food lunches, absorbing piles of nachos and excessive amounts of alcohol, while staying perfectly skinny and fucking the hottest dad at school).

If Mean Girls’ tepid message was, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores”; then Bad Moms’s is, “In this day and age it’s impossible to be a good mom.”

Of course, the villain of the piece, and the embodiment of all the gendered bullshit women are subjected to, is still a woman. In Mean Girls it was Regina George. In Bad Moms it’s Parent-Teacher Association president and self-proclaimed perfect mother Gwendolyn James. Even the name, ludicrously, sounds like an imitation: let’s take a slightly obscure, regal-sounding name and pair it with a common male first name. Ah, perfect. (Later in the film, Gwendolyn even pulls up to the girls in her posh car, yelling “Hey, bitches, get in!” – the parallels are obvious.)

If the enemy of the piece is hypocritical patriarchal expectations (the people yelling “slut!” and “whore!” at all teenage girls or “bad mom!” at all mothers), both films choose sisterhood, honesty and vulnerability as the solution. We all remember the “All junior girls report to the gymnasium! Immediately!” scene from Mean Girls:

The girls take part in a workshop – supposedly in order to own the mean things people have said about them, disregard them as ridiculous, admit their own human failings, and learn not to judge people in return.

So, too, do the women of Bad Moms gather in a school auditorium and confess their sins. After Amy delivers a speech in support of her run for PTA president urging the parents not to judge themselves for their quirks, a barrage of mothers spill their secrets in order to reject the expectations of perfections thrust upon them by the PTA and beyond. “I can’t tell my twins apart!” says one. Another: “I like my nanny more than my husband!” Every one of these mothers has felt personally victimised by Gwendolyn James. “I don’t even have kids!” one finally yells into an awkward silence. The scenes match right down to the “she doesn’t even go here” punchline in Mean Girls.

Bad Moms is watchable, mostly funny for the ridiculous slow-mo scenes of raucous behaviour from three great comic actors. It won’t reach the sanctified pop culture status of Mean Girls, but the influence of Tina Fey’s film is obvious, over 12 years on.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Edinburgh in the time of Harry Potter - growing up in a city that became famous for a book

At first, JK Rowling was considered a local author done good, rather than fiction’s future megastar. 

In an Edinburgh playground, circa 1998, I found myself excluded from one of the world’s first Harry Potter cliques. My best friend Sophie had a copy of a book with a title which seemed indecipherable to me, but she insisted it was so good she couldn’t possibly let me read it. Instead, she and the other owner of a book huddled together in corners of our concrete, high-walled playground. I was not invited.

Exclusion worked. Somehow I procured a copy of this book, rather sceptically read the praise on the cover, and spent the next day avoiding all company in order to finish it. After my initiation into the small-but-growing clique, I read the second book, still in hardback.

Edinburgh at that time was something of a backwater. Although it still had the same atmospheric skyline, with the castle dominating the city, the Scottish Parliament was yet to open, and the Scottish banks were still hatching their global domination plans. The most famous author of the moment was Irvine Welsh, whose book Trainspotting chronicled a heroin epidemic.

In this city, JK Rowling was still considered to be a local author done good, rather than fiction’s future megastar. She gave talks in the Edinburgh Book Festival, a string of tents in the posh West End Charlotte Square. By the time I saw her (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, hardback edition, 1999), she had graduated from the tepee to the big tent reserved for authors like Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen. At the end we queued up for the book signing, and she told me she liked my purple dungarees.

At that time, there were no films, and what the characters should look and sound like was a constant playground debate. Another member of the Harry Potter clique I spoke to, Sally*, remembers how excited she was that “she did the same voice for Hagrid that my mum did when she was reading it to me”.

About the same time, a rumour spread around school so incredible it took a while to establish it was true. JK Rowling was moving to the street where some of our Harry Potter clique lived. We started taking detours for the privilege of scurrying past the grand Victorian house on the corner, with its mail box and security keypad. The mail box in particular became a focus of our imagination. Sophie and I laboured away on a Harry Potter board game which – we fervently believed – would one day be ready to post.

Gradually, though, it was not just ten-year-olds peeping through the gate. The adults had read Harry Potter by now. Journalists were caught raking through the bins.

Sally recalls the change. “It was exciting [after she first moved in], but as it was just after the first book it wasn’t as much of a big deal as it soon became,” she recalls. “Then it just felt a little bizarre that people would go on tours to try and get a glimpse of her house.

“It just felt like an ordinary area of town with ordinary people and it made me realise the price that comes with fame.”

Edinburgh, too, began to change. As teenagers (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003) we liked to gather at the Elephant House cafe, on the bohemian George IV Bridge. We knew it was one of the cafes JK Rowling had written in, but we also liked its round wooden tables, and its bagels, and the fact you got one of the hundreds of miniature elephants that decorated the café if your bagel was late. It became harder and harder to get a seat.

We scoffed at the tourists. Still, we were proud that Harry Potter had put our city on the map. “As I grew older, it was fun to think of her writing the books in local cafes and just being an ordinary person living in Edinburgh with a great imagination,” Sally says. As for me, it was my trump card during long summers spent with bored Canadian teenagers, who had not heard and did not care about anything else relating to my teenage life in Scotland.

The last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published in July 2007, a month after I left high school. Not long after that, I left Edinburgh as well. The financial crash the following year stunned the city, and exiled graduates like me. I fell out the habit of reading fiction for fun. JK Rowling moved to a house on the outskirts of Edinburgh, ringed by 50 foot hedges. The Scottish independence referendum divided my friends and family. On Twitter, Rowling, firmly pro-union, was a target for cybernats.

Then, two years ago, I discovered there is another Harry Potter city – Porto. As in Edinburgh, medieval passageways wind past stacked old houses, and the sea is never far away. JK Rowling lived here between 1991 and 1993, during her short-lived marriage, and drafted the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the university district, students wear black, ragged gowns, and the fantastical wooden carvings of the Livraria Lello bookshop is tipped to be the inspiration for some of the aesthetic Rowling applies to the books.

I don’t know whether it did or not. But it made me realise that no city can possess an author, and not only because she could afford to any part of the globe at whim. Standing in the bookshop and watching the students drift by, I could imagine myself in some corner of the Harry Potter world. And simultaneously, perhaps, some tourists queueing for a table at the Elephant House were doing the same.

*Name has been changed

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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