Film Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

by Carrie Kahn on November 1, 2017

Mediocre sequel deserves a lump of coal         

The Bad Moms (from l., Kathryn Hahn, Mila Kunis, and Kristen Bell) get into the Christmas spirit in one of the film’s 8,000 (oh, I mean five) montage sequences.

With A Bad Moms Christmas, writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore try in vain to recapture the success of Bad Moms, their smart, funny, and truthful comedy from last year about overextended and overwhelmed modern day moms. They should have left well enough alone; not every picture needs a sequel or to be the start of a franchise. A Bad Moms Christmas is not nearly as funny as the original, and just feels like a painfully obvious and rather weak extension of the filmmakers’ initial idea.

The picture finds our heroines, moms Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), struggling with the stresses of trying to plan the perfect Christmas for their families; in between scenes, a bold and colorful countdown signals how many days are left until the Big Day. Adding to the trio’s angst, the Bad Moms’ Bad Moms, as it were, come to visit their daughters, with emotional distress and conflict naturally ensuing. That’s pretty much the plot, such as it is, and the one-note personalities of the foreboding senior mothers seem ripped out of a Stereotypical Characters screenplay class. Amy’s mother Ruth (Christine Baranski) is cold, critical, and controlling; Kiki’s mom Sandy (Cheryl Hines) is overbearing and suffocating; and Carla’s mom Isis (Susan Sarandon), whose name is the source of one of the picture’s rare amusing jokes, is a flaky, broke, gambling addict who drinks too much.

Carla (Kathryn Hahn, l.) gets in the Christmas spirit by scamming grocery shoppers with her mom (Susan Sarandon).

From there, the film practically writes itself, as the inevitable conflicts lead to big blow outs, tears, and — spoiler alert — reconciliations that pretty much every single person in the audience will see coming. The film wants to be a warm holiday movie with an edge, but it lacks the freshness and honesty of the original; the problems faced by the characters are exactly the same (There’s so much to do! The shopping! The baking! The decorating! The pressure!), and no new insight into modern day parenting is offered, or even attempted.

Not to say that the cast doesn’t give it their all; they do, at least, and there are fleeting moments that satisfy. Of the mother-daughter pairings, Hahn and Sarandon fare the best, which is no surprise, considering Hahn was by far the stand out in the first film. The two are the most believable here, exhibiting a legitimate ruefulness and disappointment underscored with a hopefulness that the other more cartoonish pairings don’t have. Baranski, for example, basically plays a version of her Beverly Hofstadter character from The Big Bang Theory; her iciness and disapproval are laid on way too thick, and then hastily explained away by a backstory about her own upbringing. And Hines chews the scenery as the clingy Sandy, although, thanks to her presence, we get the welcome return of Wanda Sykes as a family therapist; Sykes elicits genuine laughs in a very funny and all-to-brief counseling session between Kiki and Sandy.

Amy (Mila Kunis, l.) is not happy with how her mother (Christine Baranski) has taken over Christmas.

The other minor characters are mostly just backdrop this time, though, which is sad for the normally terrific Peter Gallagher, who, as Amy’s dad and Ruth’s husband, is underused and relegated to an almost unbelievable passive supporting role. Amy’s love interest Jessie (Jay Hernandez) also gets the wallpaper treatment. And the child actors, who were featured much more heavily in the first film and were actually pretty decent, get only a handful of lines each, most of which serve only to further the storyline between their mothers and grandmothers. One new character, however, adds some spice to the proceedings. Justin Hartley clearly enjoys himself as Ty Swindel, a male stripper who esthetician Carla becomes sweet on after waxing him, in a scene that comedically rivals what Steve Carell endured in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Hartley and Hahn have great chemistry, and if producers really want to get folks to go see this film, instead of showing one of the film’s five (yes FIVE) slow-mo, music-set montages in the trailer, they should show Ty and Carla’s spa scene. Hahn and Hartley’s enthusiasm, in fact, make a Santa stripper contest that is clearly a blatant rip off of the Magic Mike films forgivable. 

But Hartley’s presence isn’t enough to save the film as a whole; predictable and trading in recycled humor, the picture really will only appeal to those who loved the first movie so much that they simply can’t miss the next chapter. Everyone else can – and should – skip this one. Although, that said, the Martha Stewart cameo in the original is topped here by a certain soft jazz legend who drolly delivers what is easily the film’s single best line. But that’s a rather small reward for those who insist on trekking to the theater for this mediocre holiday offering.

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A Bad Moms Christmas opens today at Bay Area theaters.

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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