Mark Reviews Movies

A Bad Moms Christmas


2 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, Jay Hernandez, Justin Hartley, Peter Gallagher, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, David Walton, Wanda Sykes, Christina Applegate

MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 11/1/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 1, 2017

We didn't really need a sequel to last year's Bad Moms, the broad and safely empowering comedy about a trio of mothers who decided to shatter the unfair expectations with which their peers, their husbands, and society at large saddled them. The good news is that writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore haven't really offered up a sequel to their previous film with A Bad Moms Christmas. This is also the bad news.

The credits of the original film featured the main actresses talking with their own mothers about the difficulties and joys of being a mother. In my review of the first film, I noted that those discussions were the signs of a possible bigger step that material like this could take—instead of simply using the struggles of motherhood for a crude but heartfelt comedy. The good news is that Lucas and Moore have given the trio of Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathyrn Hahn) another trio off of whom to play: the characters' own mothers. The bad news is that the filmmakers don't take advantage of that possible bigger step. Instead, they've fallen back on the broad comedy.

It's not as funny this time, because the main trio doesn't have as much to do. All three are reacting to the different ways in which each one's respective mother has interfered with her daughter's life, broken down whatever boundaries should exist between a mother and her adult daughter, or ignored her daughter in order to pursue her personal satisfaction. These are solid enough observations, but the mothers of the main moms are more like caricatures than real people.

One of the more appealing elements of the first film was how it gave us archetypes but made them feel like actual people, thanks to their daily fears and routine concerns. In this one, Amy, Kiki, and Carla have only one problem: how to get their mothers to see the error of their ways. This is one of those comedies based on the idea that people would rather ignore a problem until it becomes untenable, instead of simply sitting down and talking things out in a way that could help. The weird thing is that the relationships are essentially untenable from the start. There's little further for them to go.

Take Ruth (Christine Baranski), Amy's mom, who arrives at her daughter's home on a last-minute announcement, only to announce that she plans to hold a big party in Amy's house for Christmas. As if the onslaught of criticism about her weight and her decorations and her recent divorce isn't enough, Amy wakes up the morning after her mother's arrival to discover that Ruth has re-decorated the entire house—complete with a grotesquely cheery outdoor display.

Boundaries are a problem for Kiki's mother Sandy (Cheryl Hinds), too. She arrives wearing a shirt with a childhood photo of Kiki printed on it (Her pajamas are covered in her daughter's face, too). On the first night of the visit, Kiki finds her mother sitting in the corner of her bedroom—Sandy only hinting at her presence when Kiki is on top of her husband (played by Lyle Brocato).

Isis (Susan Sarandon), Carla's mother, is a different story. They haven't seen each other in three years. Isis (a name that was clearly assigned for the easy joke, which is simultaneously tired and underplayed as soon as the name is said) doesn't even know it's almost Christmas. She only visits Carla when she needs money, and as much as she tries to hide it, that's the case with Isis this time, too.

Any changes that the main characters made in the original film are overlooked. Amy is still dating Jessie (Jay Hernandez), but nothing happens with or to their relationship—except that Ruth thinks he's the household help and can't remember his name. Kiki still seems to be doing most of the heavy lifting around the house (We first see her putting up the Christmas tree while taking care of the kids), despite her prior revolution. Carla's "big, dumb" son (played by Cade Cooksey), whom she realized she truly loved by the end of the first film, is basically a background player here. To give her something in-character to do, Carla meets a stripper (played by Justin Hartley) while waxing the hair from his significant nether regions.

Otherwise, it's about the problems between the eponymous moms (who are no longer "bad," save for a drunken excursion at a mall) and their mothers. They play out with little surprise and with no room to grow, meaning we get a lengthy montage of the families playing a game of dodgeball to take out their respective hostilities. By the time Lucas and Moore get to those heart-to-heart conversations, the results are more a narrative requirement than a genuine expression of decades-long issues.

Kunis, Bell, and Hahn seem aware that their characters are secondary this time, and one wishes Baranski, Hinds, and Sarandon had a chance to play characters who are more than obstacles. A Bad Moms Christmas is a case of filmmakers having the right idea for a sequel but losing what made the first film work.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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