A Bad Moms Christmas and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by Scott Moore and Jon Lucas
As glad as I was that the first film didn’t end up being an unbearable slog to sit through, I can’t say that the prospect of seeing another one fills me with much joy as I have serious doubts that STX can squeeze out another competent movie from this premise; especially when their go to idea for a sequel is to make it a freaking Christmas movie. Seriously, aside from Christmas Vacation and A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, has there been a holiday themed sequel that WASN’T an absolute waste of time? Well I guess we’re about to put that theory to the test as we get ready to spend some more time with everyone’s favorite quote-unquote BAD MOMS who are actually not so bad moms. Does this manage to rise above the low expectations set for it being both a sequel and a Christmas film in one unfortunate package? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Amy (Mila Kunis) beginning her Christmas rituals of working way too hard and being utterly miserable in the process; not that anyone is REALLY asking her to do it as her two kids (Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony) as well as her boyfriend Jesse (Jay Hernandez) and his daughter (Ariana Greenblatt) seem perfectly cool with a less intensive holiday experience. Now Amy would like nothing more than to just sit back and actually enjoy the season, but her plans to let go of the pointless and time consuming rituals that encompass the month of December are utterly destroyed once her mother Ruth comes to visit (Christine Baranski) who’s super judgmental, extremely demanding, and wants this to be the PERFECT Christmas for everyone! Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well it’s not much better with Kiki and Carla (Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) who ALSO have their mothers coming into town (Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon) and all the baggage that comes with them; the former being overbearing and invasive and the latter being… well just like her daughter. Will the titular Bad MomsTM find a way to fight back against these unwelcome invaders and make this the best holiday ever? Is there more to the rather sudden appearance of their mothers than what they’re claiming to be a merely innocent interest in spending time with their family? Just how raunchy are they willing to get to stand out in the surprisingly crowded market of naughty Christmas movies!?
I was rather forgiving of the first film for having a decent enough message hidden under its numerous faults, but the sequel is pretty much everything that was wrong the first time around minus any real reason to exist. It still manages to be FUNNY in places as all the actors involved here are incredibly talented and certainly deserve better movies than this one, but there’s no avoiding the obvious fact that this is a thoughtless carbon copy rehash of the first film. A mere facsimile of what made the original film work despite itself and basically becoming the film that I THOUGHT we were going to get initially. Then again, sitting in that theater with a rather sizable crowd behind me that was loving every minute of it, maybe there’s more to this than what I initially took away from it. I guess it’s not THAT different from say… any given horror movie franchise where the overall structure is the same, and maybe there’s room for something like that about moms getting pissed at things and drinking heavily. It’s certainly better than what Tyler Perry pumps out every year which admittedly is a pretty low bar for any franchise to clear, but I’ll take the shaky but sincere agreeability of this film over the slick and ugly moralizing you normally find in a typical Madea outing!
Thinking back on the first film and looking at this new one, there seems to be a singular thread of engagement which is what seems to be connecting with general audiences. Catharsis. Both movies (and especially this new one) seem to exist as a way for its target audience to see their frustrations validated and vicariously take them out on the world in a way that would NORMALLY get you arrested but are just part of the experience here. Again, to bring it back to horror films, that’s not too far off from what made franchises like the Saw movies successful which was a consistent indulgence in over the top gore and in creative ways to watch someone get killed. Looking at it from that angle, it makes a certain amount of sense to look at what the first movie did and try to create the same rebellious vibe out of what is often referred to as the most stressful time of the year. Take that and throw in some ridiculously over the top crappy parents and you have what is essentially a cinematic version of an overworked punching bag; ready to channel your aggressions and provide a momentary escape from the world around you. Looking at it this way, I managed to find a balance between what I felt were genuine flaws with the movie and what the movie was intentionally doing to appeal to its target audience. I still won’t tell you that this is a GOOD movie as the first film did basically the same thing with ACTUAL depth to it, but at least now I kind of get it.
So now that I’ve adjusted my expectations and am trying to look at this from that point of view, what does this movie get right? Well first off, the six women who are front and center in this (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon) end up carrying the film all the way through with some wonderful performances, great delivery, and even some moments of genuine depth and humanity. In particular I’ve got to give props to Christine Baranski who has easily the most thankless role in the entire film yet carries it with the dignity and poise that you expect from such as seasoned actress. There’s really not a point in this entire movie that you LIKE her which is intentional as she’s clearly an effigy for the audience to project their frustration with overbearing parents upon, but she manages to rise above the material and show a great deal of range in what was clearly written to be a mostly two-dimensional archetype. Kathryn Hahn as well continues to be the MVP of the original cast as she’s given the most straight up comedy moments, but surprisingly enough her subplot with Susan Sarandon ends up being the most relatable and dramatic part of this whole movie. Sadly, the weakest link ends up being Kristen Bell and Cheryl Hines who have easily the most disposable character arcs and their story falls in an awkward middle ground between the egregious yet cathartic Mila Kunis storyline and the down to earth complexity (with lots of dick jokes thrown in) that we got with Kathryn Hahn. The degree to which Cheryl Hines is overbearing and clingy to her daughter is a step too far in drawing a broad caricature and so it loses a lot of its bite as far as saying something about THIS type of parent. Other than our stars doing a solid job with the material their given, it has a few jokes here and there that land, and it ends up finding at least a SEMBLANCE of a higher purpose once we get into the third act. True, it’s the same WE NEED TO BE NICER TO EACH OTHER ending we get in every dysfunctional family Christmas film, but hey. This time of year? I’m willing to throw it an extra point for that.
Okay, now that I’ve acknowledged that there IS something to this movie that gives it a reason to exist and that it seems to have a certain appeal to its target audience, where does it manage to screw that up? Honestly, just copy and paste my issues about the first film and cut out about half of the good things I had to say and you pretty much get what’s wrong here; a fair thing to do by the way considering they barely even tried to make this a different movie! Moving the plot outside of the school and zeroing in on these three families means that we lose the MOMS RULE message that was one of the more enjoyable things about the last film. That party they hosted in the first one as well as the subsequent PTA meeting at the end weren’t just there for shits and giggles; it framed the movie as something much bigger than a slice of life tale of three frustrated women. Without that sense of connection to something bigger than themselves, it makes their problems feel that much more trivial and takes away a lot of the impact the movie should have. It’s also much more random than the first film as they double down on the wild excursions; even going so far as to have one of the most blatant and shameless bits of product placement this side of an Adam Sandler joint. It’s just a movie filled with distractions and it ends up interfering with the plot itself which always moves in weird lurches forward and then finds excuses to pull back on those advancements in the characters’ arcs for seemingly no reason other than to pad out the run time on this bare bones plot which is particularly egregious because they had three different stories to work with and yet STILL couldn’t find a way for them to naturally play out in an hour and forty minutes.
Look, if you liked the first one I’m SURE you’ll find something to enjoy in this one which I certainly did. It has its charm and it has some GREAT actors in it, but it’s also exactly what you’d expect from a sequel like this; and a Christmas themed sequel at that! Whether or not this franchise has enough legs (and enough patience from its main cast) remains to be seen, but after watching them go through the motions here, I honestly don’t think we need another one unless they do something REALLY wild with it. It’s not worth seeing in the theaters even if you think you’ll get some enjoyment out of this, but by all means check it out when it gets a home release. Heck, watch it with the first one as a double feature and I’m sure you’ll have a decent evening, even if things start to peter out towards the end of the night.