A Bad Moms Christmas Review
Is this seasonal sequel naughty or nice?
Tinsel, turkey and tantrums… Christmas isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be for everyone’s favourite over-worked and under-appreciated moms.The premise of Bad Moms is pretty self-explanatory – these are moms that are ‘bad’. Without getting into the complicated ethical and social questions of what exactly makes a ‘bad’ mother, we can accept that a film about three white, middle class mothers who decide to throw everything to the wind and have a bit of raucous fun at the expense of the PTA is an enjoyable, Friday-night summertime cinema experience. That first film (released eons ago… seriously, it was about 16 months ago) was a bit of a runaway box office success (it made around $180 million from a budget of $20 million), which explains the super-speedy turnaround on the sequel – A Bad Moms Christmas. But with that fast turnaround comes some sacrifices – there are a lot of Hangover-style gags here without much context or clever setting up (plus of course the obligatory slow motion walking shot), and not as much of the cutting, dicey humour of the first film.The idea of three mothers pushed to breaking point by stress-filled lives is pretty universally recognised by mothers and fathers all over the world, and there’s a certain catharsis that comes from seeing them tear up the rule back and have some fun of their own. The filmmakers – The Hangover’s Jon Lucas and Scott Moore - also recognised there’s a certain value in having an A-list cast of famous female stars engage in slapstick, foul-mouthed fun. After getting a bout of seasonal blues in a gussied-up shopping mall, our moms Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) decide to "take Christmas back". This means rejecting their usual holiday traditions, which involve solo cooking, decorating and buying all the presents. I get that it's part of the schtick, but isn't there something deeply depressing about the idea of the women slaving away to deliver an advert-perfect, commercial and artificial Christmas?
The moms' newfound festive freedom is cut short however, by the arrival of their own mothers (let's call them the uber-moms). Amy's uptight mum Ruth (Christine Baranski) arrives and tells her daughter in no uncertain terms that there's no joy in the holiday season once you're a mother and expects a picture-perfect Christmas. Ruth's barbed back-handed compliments are some of the best moments in the film, and I'm sure everyone recognises their own passive-aggressive family member here. Meanwhile at Kiki's place, her over-protective and over-involved mother Sandy (Sheryl Hines) is getting way too close - to the point of watching her daughter have sex so she can give some very, very unwanted advice. Slightly less disturbing, but no less irritating, is Carla's mum Isis (Susan Sarandon), a drug-addled freeloader that makes wild and wacky Carla seem the quintessential soccer mom.
These uber-moms are extremely one-dimensional, and are obviously just a clichéd plot device (oh no it's my overbearing/uncaring/snobby/out of touch mother!). Their scenes function only as attempts at humour, and in this sequel even some of the great cameraderie our three leads shared is missing.
This is ultimately an ok film. It’s a classic case of taking a few basic elements from a successful film and hammering them into a sequel – it’s passable, it’s got its moments, but it hasn’t brought the winning elements of Bad Moms with it.
Part of the reason the first film was so successful is that it took aim at those holier-than-though, perfectly-coiffed PTA mums and subverted the idea of ideal motherhood and femininity (albeit in an outsized, outrageous manner). This time Christmas seems to be the target and it's a lot harder to get behind. There's more noise and try-hard jokes thrown in than in the first film, and the whole thing comes off feeling like a bit of a smash-and-grab.
There are little stocking-fillers of laughs here but they’ve doubled the moms and halved the fun
And it's a real shame - this cast is capable of so much more. As we saw in the first film Hahn, Kunis and Bell are very skilled comedy performers, and make a great team of sort-of anti-heroes. This time round the uber-moms are along for the ride too, and Baranski in particular delivers a phenomenal performance that mostly serves to make the audience wish she was surrounded by better material.
There's still a lot of unashamed joy to be had in watching these women kick loose and fight an outdated stereotype. There is a lot that really could have been confined to the cutting room floor, and some sequences that are so forced that they make the whole thing seem a lot less funny, but filmmakers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore do manage to shoehorn in several genuinely funny sequences. The dodgeball scene is particularly amusing, but with raw comedic talent like Hahn and Bell in the cast it was always going to be a struggle to not elicit at least a few chuckles.
And you will find little stocking-fillers of laughs here, long with a few very, very exhausting lumps of comedy coal. They’ve doubled the moms but halved the fun.
Given the strengths of the first film, it's disappointing to find that this hastily shoved out Christmas special lacks the innovation, sniping humour and stereotype-bashing. The good (?) news is that there will almost definitely be another sequel. Maybe it will redeem the franchise (side note - does every Hollywood film now have to be a 'franchise'?), or maybe it will be another mediocre-at-best sequel that’s a bit of a transparent cash-grab without much substance.
Either way, whoever came up with the idea for this film should probably be on Santa's naughty list. (Or his ‘ok but could definitely do better’ list).
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