It’s the first day of November so of course that means we’re in open season for all things Christmas. Like a runner leaving the blocks before the starting gun fires, A Bad Moms Christmas is storming into the Christmas season long before any of us want to start thinking about Christmas. But such is the holiday movie season, where release schedules are so jam-packed that this probably is the safest time for the movie to open.
Despite the fact that I’m mocking its early release I was actually looking forward to the film. The first one turned out to be surprisingly funny and adept at handling its subject matter, which could have easily torpedoed into cliches and pandering. Instead Bad Moms was pretty crisp and funny. Did I think it deserved or needed a sequel? No, but neither did Blade Runner and that turned out OK.
Mentioning a science-fiction cinematic masterpiece is probably sending the wrong message. Bad Moms Christmas isn’t a masterpiece of any sorts, but it holds its own in a very, very weird way.
A Bad Moms Christmas
Director: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Release Date: November 1, 2017
Where Bad Moms was a funny movie about three moms throwing off the burdens of the expectations of a stereotypical mom to solid comic effect, Bad Moms Christmas is about living up to the expectations of that most wonderful holiday while also pleasing your parents. Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) are all back in the swing of things, enjoying their much-improved lives after the events of the first film. Then Christmas rolls around and by chance all their mothers show up unexpectedly to wreak the kind of motherly havoc that moms wreak in movies. Ruth (Christine Barinski), Amy’s mom, is uptight and controlling; Sandy (Cheryl Hines), Kiki’s mom, is overly attached after the death of her husband; Isis (Susan Sarandon), Carla’s mom, is a gambling degenerate, who was never around for her daughter. Clearly things aren’t going to go well.
Christmas jumps the shark a bit, turning a relatively grounded comedy about motherhood into a tour of over-the-top ridiculousness. Of course, this is a comedy so everything is played for laughs, and things should be pushed to the extreme, but often the gags are too detrimental to the characters and make it hard for the film to hit its emotional points, which the first movie did a great job of. The worst aspect of this is Kiki and Cheryl’s relationship, which is supposed to cover the overly attached mother cliche. But Cheryl is creepy to the point of incestuousness (at one point watching her daughter have sex), which pushes beyond the realm of comedy and into uncomfortable territory. It derails a lot of that story line, and while the most egregious example, it’s emblematic of the way the film treats its story lines.
Despite this flaw, A Bad Moms Christmas can entertain, and eventually packs an emotional punch in some of its story. The main thrust of the movie is between Amy and Ruth, and for the most part there is great payoff. The comedy works here, never pushing too far, and delivering a strong ending that doesn’t feel like it’s overblown or out of touch like the other two sets of characters. Cheryl also has a love story with fully played slapstick, and offers some of the funniest moments in the film, but her relationship with her mother isn’t fleshed out enough to really hit where it needs to by the end.
That’s really too bad because the film makers have obviously pulled together a fantastic cast of hilarious women to play the moms. Barinski leads the show, and mostly steals it, as an uptight mother who is forcing Christmas to be perfect because she’s insecure. She delivers a performance balancing the comedy and emotion that could have made this film work throughout. Hines and Sarandon on the other hand are a bit wasted. Both deliver their comedic parts perfectly, but when it comes to landing as characters they miss. Sarandon is especially funny as Isis, delivering a few of the best lines in the film, but by the end her character is sidelined into a forced ending. Hines, whose Curb Your Enthusiasm work lets us know she can do far better than this, is woefully underutilized for the aforementioned reasons.
Aside from unrealized potential, the film plays out mostly like you’d expect, which, in this case, is a good thing. Kunis, Bell, and Hahn are clearly having fun with each other, and play off each other far better than you’d think. Because of the ramped up comedic aspects they get to be a bit funnier this time around, but at the detriment to both Bell and Hahn’s characters. Most people aren’t heading to this movie for the in-depth commentary on the modern status of the mother/daughter relationship, however. They’re going for the jokes about wangs and drinking, and for the most part the movie delivers on those.
We don’t have a new Christmas comedy classic on our hands here, but if you’re looking for something that isn’t Thor: Ragnarok this weekend then you could do worse. A Bad Moms Christmas is a conceit taken to the nth degree for better and for worse. While it may lose some of its punch in its drive for comedic set ups, it still finds its heart at the end.