Smoking cigarettes is very, very bad for you. But if it weren't for some kids getting caught smoking at school, the five single mothers in this story likely never would have met.
Hillary, Joy, May, Esperanza and Lytia hail from radically different backgrounds. When their children misbehave at their über-prestigious prep school, however, these diverse moms all get pulled together when they're hauled in front of the principal and told that their little angels—who are about 11 or 12—have run afoul of the rules. Their daughters were caught smoking. Their sons were snagged tagging the school walls. And they're all this close (since you can't see my finger and thumb, you'll just have to assume that they're very, very close) to getting kicked out of school for good.
Unless, of course, the moms agree to organize a school dance.
Well, the mothers know full well that they can't have their young 'uns expelled. It just wouldn't look good on the kids' permanent records. But these single moms are, not surprisingly, quite busy. Plus, the only thing they have in common is a pair of X chromosomes.
Jan is a tough-as-titanium publishing executive. May is a talented-but-harried writer—whom Jan just tossed out of her office. Lytia lives in a rough neighborhood and tries to shield her children from the streets' perils. Hillary was once the wife of a wealthy lawyer who mostly left her children in the charge of the housekeeper. And Esperanza? She's engaged in a seemingly life-and-death struggle with her ex over the heart and soul of their daughter.
No, these five single moms don't have even six things in common. But they're still mothers. And they'd do anything for their kids. So despite the fact that Jan sometimes lets slip racist comments, or that Lytia sometimes looks like she'd like to smack the lot of them, the women set aside their differences and buckle down to throw the niftiest, sparkliest dance ever.
And who knows? Maybe they'll forge lifelong friendships in the process.
Lytia's so scared of her kid breaking bad that she won't let him out of her sight, even for a quick game of basketball. And hard-charging Jan signs her daughter up for all manner of things to show her that she can have it all, even though the only thing her daughter wants is a little time with her mom.
That kind of not-so-positive list goes on and on, making it quickly clear that these frazzled women could sure use some help ... and they find it in one another. They become a de facto support network—a place each can go for a little sanity, adult conversation and advice (even if that advice is sometimes unsolicited). And through the friendship and tutelage of new friends, each mother becomes both a better mom and a stronger woman.
Lytia lightens up on her little man, for example. Jan backs off on her career to spend more time with her daughter. Hillary begins to talk to her tween girl, and Esperanza draws some stronger boundary lines with her ex to make her parenting job a little less stressful.
Jan confesses that when she had her first menstrual cycle, her mother told her she was being divinely punished. She responded by running into the street shrieking that she was a witch and that the devil "clawed me in my swimsuit area."
All of the women were either dating before this story begins or wind up doing so before it ends.
Hillary is attracted to her next-door neighbor, a contractor. The two engage in a five-minute conversation riddled with double entendres as she enlists his help for the dance. ("We need a man who knows how to pound. With tools.") When the contractor comes by while Hillary is on the phone with Jan, Jan makes ribald suggestions regarding what Hillary should do or look at. Hillary and her new man eventually kiss. (In outtakes during the credits, audiences are subjected to more suggestive banter.)
Esperanza already has a boyfriend. We see the two of them in bed together, both in skimpy underwear. When her ex-husband rings the doorbell, Esperanza hustles her boyfriend out the back door as he tries to put on his clothes. (Her ex has threatened to withhold his child support if Esperanza moves in with another guy.) The couple kisses passionately in a restaurant hallway. Esperanza eventually tells her ex—as well as her daughter—that she has a boyfriend who sometimes sleeps over. And while her boyfriend says that he's in love with her, Esperanza's less sure about her own feelings.
Lytia spurns the attention of her would-be beau, Branson (whose business truck proudly proclaims "Body & Booty by Branson"). He makes up songs for her, including one that crassly references how her apron accentuates her chest, and tells her that he wants to fulfill her "every fantasy." After the two go to a movie with the rest of Lytia's friends, Branson forces a couple of kisses on the resistant woman. But Lytia doesn't pull away for long: The two kiss passionately just a bit later on.
Esperanza and Lytia bet on whether Jan is a lesbian, partly because her daughter was the result of artificial insemination from an anonymous donor. She says she's not (while declaring there would be nothing wrong with it if she were), but that her career has always come first. Jan's friends set her up on a blind date, and she kisses the guy goodnight on the cheek. Both Jan and May say they've been celibate for several years. May begins dating a guy named T.K., and the two kiss.
Jan's daughter frequently gets in trouble at school for aggressively kissing boys. There's talk about smoking inhibiting breast development and a girl beginning her period (while not telling her mother). Esperanza's ex leers at her. We hear references to venereal disease and male strip acts. Indeed, one night four of the women go to a strip club: We see them hooting and waving money (but are shown none of the strippers). "I still feel dirty," Jan jokes afterward. Hillary reads Fifty Shades of Grey.
Lytia slaps Branson across the face, and the two of them push each other (first angrily, then with sudden romantic passion).
Crude or Profane Language
Muffled profanities perhaps include one s-word and two misuses of Jesus' name. God's name is abused five or six times. We clearly hear a dozen uses of "h‑‑‑," three or four of "a‑‑," one of "p---" and two of "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
May's ex has a wicked drug problem, and we see the destructive toll it's taken on his family. He forgets to pick up his son, Rick, from school. But Rick is desperate for a father figure, and when his dad calls him up and asks to meet, Rick sneaks out of a house to do so. Once Rick finds his father, it becomes clear that Dad's motivations for spending time with his son are entirely self-serving: Rick later tells his mom that his father took his money and handheld game console, using them to buy more drugs. Lytia's family has also been hurt by drugs: Her boys are serving 25-year sentences for drug possession and armed robbery.
The Single Moms Club never convenes without everyone having a glass of wine or champagne in hand. Esperanza's ex throws her daughter's 11th birthday party in a restaurant with a bar. He sits with his daughter at the bar, unlit cigar in mouth, with lots of alcohol bottles in the background. A woman smokes a cigarette.
Other Negative Elements
Kids talk back and treat their mothers disrespectfully at times (though these moments are obviously intended to illustrate the children's unmet needs), and one purposefully pits her divorced parents against each other. The moms, in turn, can needlessly exasperate their children.
Employers question the priorities of the moms, suggesting that unless they're willing to put family second, their careers will suffer.
The Single Moms Club is, at its best, a movie that reveres the family—even if that family is splintered a bit (as so many are today). Creator and director Tyler Perry points his camera not only at single moms, but single motherhood, lauding the hard, heroic work that these women must do as they strive to raise healthy, happy youngsters.
Perry also rightfully suggests that moms need help—and not just from their friends. While so many do some really wonderful things, Perry shows us that kids need dads too. Rick, May's little boy, longs for a father to love and hang out with. He's crushed when his dad can't be bothered with that due to his crippling drug addiction.
"We'll be just fine," May tells the boy, both of them crying. And from what little we see of May, we know they will. She's a fantastic mother and will do her utmost to raise her boy.
And that how Perry gets down to the nuts and bolts of the difference between fine and great. When May's new boyfriend takes Rick fishing with his own boys, for example, we see a hint of what Rick's been missing: No matter how wonderful his mom may be, there's just no replacing what a dad brings into the picture.
But while Mr. Perry admirably lauds the importance of family, in some ways he's none too picky about other particulars. The result? The Single Moms Club falls short when it comes to elements of family life that are equally important. Such as a relationship cemented through the commitment of marriage. Such as modeling sexual purity outside of wedlock. Such as recognizing the need for God to be at the center of every healthy family.
Perry often talks about faith in his movies. And he's one of very few directors willing to do so. But that theme is mostly absent in The Single Moms Club. And, frankly, it's missed here.
In all of that, The Single Moms Club delivers a sweet-but-strong overarching message about the critical importance of mothers and fathers, family and friendship … even if some of these struggling moms' choices aren't always as laudable as their overflowing love for their children obviously is.