'A Bad Moms Christmas': Film Review

Scores some laughs, but yields diminishing returns.
11/1/2017

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn are joined by Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon in a sequel to the 2016 summer hit.

Bad Moms was a serviceable summer raunch-com, mainly thanks to Kathryn Hahn’s gloriously blowsy turn as the baddest of the titular trio. The 2016 movie surpassed expectations at the box office, which explains the quick turnaround for A Bad Moms Christmas, a superfluous sequel — have we really had enough time to miss these ladies? — that commits the usual studio comedy sins: lazy writing, a middling hit-to-miss gag ratio, unimaginative visuals (please, please, pretty please can we have a moratorium on the slow-mo group strut/debauchery?), shameless product placement. Sure, it’s sporadically funny. With brilliant comedians like Hahn and new addition Christine Baranski on board, there are line readings that pop and jokes that land. (The mere sight of Hahn in a side ponytail is enough to get me giggling.) But Bad Moms Christmas is louder, busier and more pandering than the original — an exhausting spectacle of skilled performers gamely mugging their way through a cash grab. You may be intermittently entertained; you’ll also likely leave feeling as pummeled and pooped as the burned-out mothers at the movie’s center.

In addition to Queen Scene Stealer Hahn, the first Bad Moms had a ripe satirical target: the cult of sanctimonious, gluten-freer-than-thou momsters. Bad Moms Christmas has no such narrative raison d’etre; the premise reeks of boardroom pitch (“What if the Bad Moms had — wait for it — bad moms?!”), giving the movie an air of desperation the original, for all its shortcomings, largely avoided.

Compared with another recent women-gone-wild comedy, the often combustibly funny Girls Trip, Bad Moms Christmas feels particularly mechanical. The former hustled hard — sometimes a bit too hard — for its laughs, but also demonstrated a sincere interest in its characters and their loving but prickly bonds with one another; the latter is too busy chasing the punchline and the bottom line to care whether what happens onscreen makes any kind of human sense.

Writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have reunited Mila Kunis’ frazzled-yet-radiant Amy, Kristen Bell’s chipper Kiki and Hahn’s potty-mouthed hedonist Carla — all of whom, in the first film, took a break from mothering and its attendant guilt to party, pamper themselves and, in Amy’s case, pursue a cute divorced dad, Jesse (Jay Hernandez). Amy and Jesse now live together, their families blended in sitcom-ish harmony.

One afternoon at the mall, Amy, Kiki and Carla are venting about holiday-season stress — the presents, the parties, the pressure to give their kids the Best Christmas Ever — and decide to ditch tradition, vowing to “take back Christmas.” (The film’s conventional, white-bread conception of Christmas as some kind of package experience a mother has to deliver to her family is dated and depressing, even by the low standard of comedy-sequel pretexts.) If you saw Bad Moms, it’ll be no surprise that “taking back Christmas” entails shots, girl-on-girl kissing, twerking and conspicuous shoplifting. While there’s some sly amusement in the idea that these women’s default blowing-off-steam routine consists of channeling psychotic sorority girls, the movie might have come up with a few fresh spins on the bad behavior.

The ladies’ effort to do Christmas on their own terms is complicated by the arrivals of their own mothers. Amy’s control-freak snob of a mom, Ruth (Baranski), shows up with her long-suffering husband (Peter Gallagher), shooting off withering assessments and passive-aggressive remarks like poison-tipped arrows (she “compliments” Amy’s hair by noting it looks like she’s “not trying too hard”). Kiki’s mother, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), had her at 18 and raised her alone, which supposedly explains why she’s so pathologically clingy that she wears pajamas with her daughter’s likeness printed on them and spies on Kiki having sex with her husband so she can offer feedback (yep, you read that right). And pothead drifter Isis (Susan Sarandon) is such a freeloading flake that she makes daughter Carla look like a paragon of responsibility.

Chaos, conflicts and resolutions ensue, all supremely contrived. Bad Moms Christmas has a lot of filler — its 104 minutes could easily have been trimmed to 84 — and several whiffs (a sequence in which Ruth forces Amy to go caroling dressed as Ebenezer Scrooge, backed by a local choir, is almost spectacularly inept). Still, the directors keep things cranking, and pull off a few solid comic set pieces. The best is an impromptu dodgeball game that finds Carla at one point using her lovable dolt of a teen son (a hilarious, underused Cade Cooksey) as a shield. Another highlight — or lowlight, depending on how your taste in comedy skews — comes when Carla, who works at a waxing salon, and a sweet male stripper (Justin Hartley) meet-cute as she gives him a full Brazilian.

As in the first movie, Kunis’ Amy is a bore, especially when she’s sharing the frame with Bell or Hahn. As for the moms’ moms, each actress is given a single note to play, and plays it hard. Baranski fares best; like Hahn, she can sell even the stalest bit, like a running joke that has her mistaking Jesse, who is Latino, for the help.

The most glaring disappointment of Bad Moms Christmas is its failure to nurture the considerable chemistry between the three leads. One of the pleasures of the first film, beyond its coarser charms, was the ticklish sense of sisterhood that bound these women as they raged against the Mom-Industrial Complex. The new film does nothing to develop or deepen their dynamic, or find new shades to their banter.

What it does do is suggest that a threequel could be in the works. If A Bad Moms Christmas doesn’t exactly dishonor its predecessor, it never comes close to presenting a compelling case for a franchise. Like that’s ever stopped Hollywood.

Production companies: STX Entertainment, Huayi Brothers Pictures
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Writer-directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Cheryl Hines, Peter Gallagher, Justin Hartley, Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon
Producer: Suzanne Todd
Executive producers: Bill Block, Mark Kamine
Director of photography: Mitchell Amundsen
Production designer: Marcia Hinds
Editor: James Thomas
Costume designer: Julia Caston
Composer: Christopher Lennertz

Rated R, 104 minutes

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