Interview with 'Moms' Night Out' Director Jon Erwin: Film, Family, and Faith

( [email protected] ) May 10, 2014 12:16 PM EDT
Jon and Mandy Erwin
Director Jon Erwin and wife Mandy attend the film premier of new comedy. (Valerie Macon/Getty Images North America)

With an impressive body work ranging in diversity from country music videos to the hard-hitting "October Baby," filmmaking duo Jon and Andy Erwin lead the field in the wave of faith-based films released this year.

Now, the brothers, who hail from Birmingham, Alabama, are exploring uncharted territory, directing and producing a wholesome comedy called "Mom's Night Out."

Due in theaters this Mother's Day weekend, "Moms' Night Out" been lauded for its relatability for both Christian and secular audiences alike. The star-studded cast includes Sarah Drew (TV's Grey's Anatomy) as Allyson, a frazzled mother desperate to find some solace and emotional stability in the mist of her chaotic family life.

With three children under the age of five, writer/director Jon Erwin and his wife Beth daily experience the beautiful mess called parenting. Jon shared with The Gospel Herald in an interview about his new comedy.

(An edited transcript of the full interview is below)

Q. What was your inspiration for creating the film "Moms' Night Out?"

Jon:  The inspiration behind the film was my wife and watching how hard she works. Moms of America-- single moms, working moms, stay at home moms-they give so much to their families and often jettison taking care of themselves as a result. When (producer) Kevin Downs brought me the script of the film, I read it and thought, man, I have lived everything this week! We have three young kids, so life is crazy in our house. I'd never heard of a faith-based comedy before, but I thought it was a great idea affirm, validate and value my wife through the lens of a laugh out loud comedy.

On my anniversary, my wife and I were out for dinner, and I handed the script of "Mom's Night Out" to her and said, "why don't you just read the first page of this?" She could not stop flipping through it, and actually read the whole thing over dinner, laughing out loud the whole time. She practically lunged across the table and said "You have to make this movie!" That right there was confirmation that this film was something I needed to be a part of.

Q. So would you say, based off how your wife reacted, that women will be encouraged by seeing this film?

Jon: About 40% women deal with stress, anxiety and depression because of what they see online and on magazine covers. And that issue does not get talked about enough. We live in a culture of comparison, but what's on the front of magazine covers isn't real, it's manufactured, it costs thousands of dollars. The problem is in our culture is that there are moms and American women in general that look at everyone's perfect projection of themselves and think "I don't measure up," "I'm not enough," or "I'm a failure." That's a problem with social media, it's a selective representation of ourselves-only the sides that we want people to see. Women often don't understand their own worth and value, that that they're loved by God just for who they are. Beauty has so much more to do with uniqueness than conformity to a magazine cover, and individuality is what should drive it.

That's why I love the idea of a movie that takes those issues of worth and value head on through the lens of the very powerful tool that is comedy. That is what drove us to do the film. After one of the screenings of the film, I received a handwritten letter from a 14 year old girl-- who is obviously not the core consumer for the film, as it's a film for moms--but she wrote, "I'm struggling with depression, and this movie has helped me to know that I'm loved, that God loves me God just for who I am, that I'm a mess, but I'm a beautiful mess-I'm his masterpiece." That's really what I want to give to everyone who sees the movie, we all need it. We all need to know that we're loved for who we are and not for whom we're trying to be. And I think that's a powerful message and something that was definitely worth two years of my life and everyone else who was associated with this film.

Moms' Night Out
Allyson (Sarah Drew) blogs about her adventures in motherhood.(Photo: Moms' Night Out)

Q. "Moms' Night Out" is a "family friendly comedy," which is increasingly being considered an oxymoron by the rest of the world.

Jon: Isn't that crazy? Like what happened? What happened to some of those old, wonderful old comedies that were clean, but really funny that you could take your family to? Not kid's movies, not animated movies, but real comedies. There's a great USA Today article titled "R Stands for Raunch." It seems like these days, for a comedy to get noticed, it has to be over the top. It makes me angry, because many of them have funny concepts, and I'd love to be the first consumer in the door to see the film, I love comedies and I love to laugh. But I can't see them because of my values. Many comedies are rated R due to graphic sexuality and pervasive language---they're a hard R, even pushing the boundaries of an R. I don't know what has happened in the genre of comedy recently, but it's in the gutter, and that's one of the things that we're trying to do is bring it out of the gutter and say, "you know, you can laugh, but you don't have to sacrifice your values. You can laugh at a comedy and not have to feel like you need to take a shower after you see the movie. After we screened the film totally secular audience, people kept coming up to me after saying "thank you so much for making a clean comedy."

I think trust is a big issue in movies right now, because audiences don't know what's going to be in a movie. We've all sat through a movie where we've asked "will this offend me or my wife? Will I have to cover my kid's eyes?" and we have to police the film so we're not able to enjoy it. What Andy and I want to do is to create trustworthy entertainment , that if our names on it, viewers will know they won't have to worry about anyone being offended.

Moms' Night Out
Dusting off their high heels. (Photo: Moms' Night Out)

Q. You talk a lot about the importance of your family. As a super busy husband movie director and husband and father, how do you sustain and nurture your marriage as well as your relationship with your children?

Jon: Being a film director is tough; there's a joke in the movie where the little girl draws a picture for Allyson, the mom, and says "I drew this as a family portrait because you love me the most." And Allyson says "Aw, where's daddy" and she says "he's up in the jet plane where he always is" (laughs) Obviously I'm a film director and I travel a lot, which puts a great deal of stress and strain on my wife. Thankfully with my job we have the ability to alleviate that, and I can give her the support she needs, but I have to emphasize my primary role is that of a dad and a husband. While we were filming, Kevin said, "We're working on a movie called "Mom's Night Out," so shame on us if we can't include our wives." So we had a "mom RV" our wives were able to drop the kids off and be a big part of the filmmaking process.

I have an unorthodox schedule, so I have to intentionally make time for my family and detach from all the madness of entertainment in order to spend time with my wife and kids. I'm also a blessed filmmaker, getting to use millions of dollars of a movie studio's money to write a love letter to my wife. That's pretty amazing, and I'm proud that we got to be part of that. It was great to hear Sarah (Drew) call moms the "unsung hero" of our culture on the View the other day, because it's so true.

Moms' Night Out
The kids are excited about their Mother's Day. (Photo: Moms' Night Out)

Q. What do you want husbands and fathers to take away from this movie?

Jon: This movie is a softball to dads of America. Even though it's Mother's Day weekend, dads will love the movie as well. The film could also be called "The Mad, Mad World of Parenting" (laughs). There's a dad's story in the film that fathers will be able to relate to. It's also an opportunity for men to take their wives to see this movie on mother's day weekend. It's the perfect Mother's Day card, and I hope dads take advantage of that opportunity and take time to tell their wives how important she is; to tell her how much they appreciate her for how hard she's working. We don't do that enough.

Moms' Night Out
Watching a few kids for a couple of hours—what could go wrong? (Photo: Moms' Night Out)

Q. You're from Birmingham, Alabama and still live there instead of LA. How has that affected your filmmaking?

Jon: I'm born and raised in Alabama, and it's a wonderful place to live. The southeast has a lot going on in filmmaking right now between Atlanta and New Orleans. However, there's quite a cultural divide between Birmingham and LA. The cities hold a drastically different set of ethics and values. I call LA the worldwide capital of narcissism; there's a great deal of self-obsession which changes the way people think and act. To me, I'm being paid to represent a group of people that Hollywood doesn't understand. And I'm trying to bridge a gap between middle America and Hollywood and convince them both that they can serve each other's interests, which is possible. In order to that effectively, I need to live in Alabama, I have to keep grounded and keep a pulse on the audience I'm serving. In the words of Walt Disney, "I'm not trying to entertain the critics, I'd rather take my chances with the people."

Q. Would you call "Moms' Night Out" a faith-based film?

Jon:  I'm definitely a Christian and this is my film (laughs). "Faith-based film" is quite a buzzword in Hollywood right now. It's like the dam is breaking, there's so much momentum right now with a faith based film. Like with anything that grows, like a tree, when it grows up it grows out. We're diversifying, we're exploring new genres like comedy. Each film released is going to feel a little different and unique. They become a little harder to define: what is a Christian film? "Moms' Night Out" is a comedy about a truth that I am enormously passionate about: we are loved by God just for who we are. This whole idea of unconditional love-- which is one of the very bases of Christianity-- is so counter-cultural and goes against every way our pop culture engine works. Yet, it's so craved on a fundamental level. This film is worth going to see because people need to know that message. Now, on the Christian film rector scale, where does it land? I'll let the audience decide that. But this film is one that I'm deeply passionate about. I'm happy to associate myself with all the success Christian films are experiencing this year. It's a landslide, and people have no idea how powerful their movie ticket is right now. Mark Burnett (who produced "Son of God") nailed it when he said this is the year of the faith based film. And I'm proud to be a part of it.

Mom's Night Out
Sean and Allyson are reminded that marriage makes for a great love story. (Photo: Mom's Night Out)