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Depending on how you read the title, A Bad Moms Christmas can be one of two things. The first is what the filmmakers think it is: Christmas, being celebrated by bad moms. And “bad” is a relative term. These moms are good-looking and employed and sociable. They have big houses and smart, well-adjusted kids. They’re just badly behaved, sometimes. They like to get drunk in mall food courts and steal Christmas trees and assault employees dressed as elves. This, I think, is a statement on the difficulties of motherhood. It was in the first film, anyway, which our very own Dan Hart liked a lot more than I did. In fairness I liked it more than some other critics. Maybe it’s a parent thing. That film had something truthful to say about how hard it is keeping on top of your own life when you’re in charge of someone else’s.
Here’s the other way to read the title: It’s Christmas being celebrated by moms, and it’s bad. This is the interpretation I prefer.
Did the first film really need a sequel?
Need? No, of course not. But it made $113 million on a $20 million budget, so here’s a sequel regardless. The timely festive veneer is just a slim justification for it. The real reason, as always, is profit. Green. Dinero. It’s no surprise that this second film ends by setting up the third. Bad Moms’ Moms. I can see it now. It’d make less money than this one, but it’d probably be better. How could it not be?
It’s that bad?
As prone to hyperbole as I might sometimes be, I can say without a shred of exaggeration that A Bad Moms Christmas is an insult to hardworking mothers everywhere. And I love mothers. They’re some of my favourite people. I love mine. I (sometimes) love the one I made my daughter with. They deserve better representatives than the insufferable mothers in this film, who have “had enough” of… what, exactly? Of having nice kids and nice spouses and nice homes? What standards are these women trying to live up to? What expectations are they rebelling against? And what on earth is aspirational about watching their dull, dumb, base and boring attempts to “take Christmas back”? I don’t even know who they’re supposed to be taking it back from.
What’s this one about?
It’s Christmastime, which is the worst time for moms. It’s also the worst time for everyone in the world besides children, I might add, but according to this film it’s especially taxing for moms. Amy (Mila Kunis) is feeling the pressure. She has two kids (Oona Lawrence; Emjay Anthony) and a handsome boyfriend (Jay Hernandez), all ported over from the previous film. But she’s expected to deliver “the perfect Christmas”, which in 2017 I’m not sure even exists as a concept. What might it look like? I imagine very little like the one she’s imagining, which seems snatched straight from the pages of a 1950’s handbook on domesticity.
Her friends don’t seem to be faring any better – or worse, depending on your viewpoint. Kiki (Kristen Bell) has her own kids and a hardworking husband. Carla (Kathryn Hahn) is a single mother of a dumb teenager, sure, but she also has a job waxing genitals now. Mila Kunis might be the least convincing on-screen matriarch since Mrs. Doubtfire, but at least her character fits in with the group. Carla doesn’t. She isn’t overburdened or overworked. She starts out as the kind of heavy-drinking, hard-partying tearaway that the other women want to become. Her kid has barely been in either movie. But Hahn is willing to do the raunchier bits, and she sells them better than the other two could. So here she is.
This sounds awfully similar to the first one.
Well, the moms haven’t turned up yet.
But aren’t Amy, Kiki and Carla the moms?
Yes, but the moms also have moms. And the moms’ moms turn up for Christmas with one very specific neurosis each. Here’s Amy’s mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski). She’s a perfectionist. Here’s Kiki’s mom, Sandy (Cheryl Hines). She’s clingy. And there’s Carla’s mom, Isis (Susan Sarandon). She’s a grifter. These quirks are supposed to form conflicts. Amy struggles to please Ruth. Sandy doesn’t respect Kiki’s boundaries. Isis only visits Carla when she wants to “borrow” money. But there can’t be conflict. Nobody in this film talks, thinks or behaves like a real person.
Does that matter in a film like this, though?
Yes. It matters very much.
I see your point, of course. Where are the slapstick set-pieces and the montages of misbehaviour that you came to see? Well, they’re here. There are several of them, in fact. One’s at the mall. Another’s at a bouncy fun-filled trampoline park called “Sky Zone” which, Google informs me, is a real franchise. I was wondering more about how much that endorsement cost than I was about how the shenanigans might affect the characters and their relationships. It occurs to me that none of their problems are important enough to make a movie about. And none of the characters are endearing or charismatic enough to make you care about their problems. It’s an inherently self-defeating premise.
What I mean is, aren’t they caricatures to make a statement?
About what, though? The hardships of motherhood were at least understandable in the first film. You felt why these characters – well, two of them – were upset. Here, their misfortunes are all assumed.
Well, duh. Of course it’s hard for moms at Christmas.
Is it? Despite all the evidence to the contrary? Having all the characters be expressions of maternal id doesn’t make for good storytelling or a good movie. Not when the script argues against it. You get the sense that somebody involved in the film’s production realised this. How else do you explain Mila Kunis’ on-the-nose voiceover narration? It feels like something inserted last-minute, to get the audience on the moms’ side. Then again, the movie began principle filming in May of this year. Everything about it is last-minute.
Okay, so there’s no depth. But is it funny?
No. Almost none of the jokes land. How could they, really? A joke requires a setup and a punchline. A Bad Moms Christmas is all punchlines. You’re supposed to find it hysterical that the women get drunk and grab their tits in slow-motion. But their issues are so minor that whatever the tit-grabbing is supposed to emphasise hardly seems worth the effort. A better title would be A Bad Moms Overreaction. At best their efforts to “take Christmas back” seem dumb and juvenile; at worst they’re actually criminal. And all for no real reason – at least not one I can detect.
Is there a chance you’re just not the target audience here for A Bad Moms Christmas?
I wasn’t the target audience for the first one, and even though I didn’t much care for it I at least understood where it was coming from. So, no, that’s not the issue. The film’s problems aren’t gendered. Unfunny jokes and sloppy screenwriting are detectable even by the decidedly un-evolved male brain, as are lazy performances. Everyone here is punching a clock and holding their hand out for a paycheck. Baranski could play her pampered diva character in her sleep, which is just as well. That seems to be precisely what she’s doing.
Did you like anything at all?
Carla might be the group’s ugly duckling, but her being mugged off by a game Susan Sarandon is the only narrative thread I wish had been tugged on a little harder. Everyone has a leeching friend or relative. And if you don’t, well, I’ve got news for you – you’re the leech.
If you have a relative who you wish would hang themselves with their Christmas stocking, try slipping a copy of this inside it.