‘A Bad Moms Christmas’: double the moms, half the fun

‘A Bad Moms Christmas’: double the moms, half the fun

By Jack Beck ’18

Last July, the moms-behaving-badly comedy aptly titled “Bad Moms” hit it big at the box office, crossing the $100 million mark by September. The reviews were mixed and the film’s premise wasn’t especially innovative, but with the writers of the first Hangover movie (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) at the helm and a main cast (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn) that clicked beautifully, the movie was extremely successful.

These days, no good high-performing movie goes unpunished by a sequel, so a second installment, “A Bad Moms Christmas,” was rushed into production for release barely 17 months later. Lucas and Moore once again return as writers and directors, and the core cast is back including promising new additions, but even the time-tested talent could not save this disastrous film.

A “Bad Moms Christmas” relies on the time-worn Hollywood comedy principle of taking whatever worked in the last movie and doubling it. Accordingly, there are twice as many moms in this movie and twice as many goofy set pieces. But that means it’s overstuffed now, and everyone gets short shrift in a story bolstered by stereotypes that seem less winking and more mean the second time around. (The fact that this franchise is written and directed by two men is also starting to feel a little too obvious.)

This film takes place about 18 months after the first one, which brings us to the week before Christmas, a time, as Amy (Kunis) reminds us in voiceover, is very crazy for moms, with the cooking, the parties and the buying of presents.

Amy’s divorce has just been finalized; she’s still dating dreamy widower dad Jesse (Jay Hernandez). Meek Kiki (Bell) is still running herself ragged with the four young kids, but her husband seems to be pitching in a little more. And Carla (the still-marvelous Hahn) is her same kooky self.
Amy’s mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski), is a tightly wound judgment machine who arrives with a towering pile of presents for her grandkids and Amy’s father Hank (Peter Gallagher) in tow.

Kiki’s mother Sandy (Cheryl Hines) gets in three days early, wearing a T-shirt with Kiki’s face on it. She’s a bundle of energy, all of which is aimed squarely at being her daughter’s shadow.
Then there’s Isis (Susan Sarandon), who regularly hitchhikes around the country and lands on Carla’s doorstep via the cab of a long-haul truck, only dimly aware that it’s Christmas. Carla is hardly a model of parental responsibility, but Isis is a total disaster, having come to town mostly to ask her daughter for money.

There are plenty of “shocking” bawdy jokes, but it’s all very familiar. Whereas the sillier plot points of ‘Bad Moms’ seemed to grow more or less organically from the characters’ own evolution, here everything feels vaguely rushed, as if Lucas and Moore were following a checklist of things to squeeze into the studio-mandated 104-minute runtime.

Ultimately, “A Bad Moms Christmas” doesn’t treat its characters as anything more than caricatures.
“Bad Moms” was ostensibly a movie about moms who are tired of the rat race of modern (and quite affluent) motherhood and realize they don’t need to “have it all” to be happy. The title is a joke: Only by being a bad mom can you be a good mom. And the movie was actually about how female friendship, especially among women with wildly different temperaments and outlooks, brings out the best in people.

“A Bad Moms Christmas” is also ostensibly about moms who are so over it, but what it’s supposed to actually be about is how everyone eventually grows up to become their own mother. We can see how Ruth’s overbearing parenting, Sandy’s hover-parenting and Isis’s total lack of parenting have influenced their respective daughters’ own child-rearing styles and contributed to their particular neuroses.

That sort of thin characterization can work fine on certain kinds of sitcoms, but not in feature-length movies.