Kathryn Hahn, Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell in A Bad Moms Christmas.
There needs to be a word to describe misbegotten sequels to movies that were profitable but beloved by no one. The first incarnation of Bad Moms is fine, especially by the standards of studio comedies whose titles start with the word Bad. (It exists somewhere south of the first Bad Santa but significantly north of Bad Santa 2, Bad Grandpa and Bad Teacher.) It was probably a lot of fun to make for its stars, and I generally think that if you do not enjoy watching Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn do their thing, you’re probably not a lot of fun at parties. It’s not that surprising to see people make a fun, relatively easy little movie like this one, seeing it made a lot of money and deciding that going through that experience again wouldn’t be so bad.
It’s hard to remember, though, that making movies is work for everyone involved, just like the work that we do every day; by that comparison, A Bad Moms Christmas is roughly equivalent to the hour of work you do after you come back from your lunch break. It clears the bar to be the very bare minimum of what can be considered work, but most of it is just fucking around. It’s standard in comedy sequels to bring in the unseen parents or siblings of the protagonists – in fact it’s also the exact premise of Daddy’s Home 2, the month’s other unnecessary sequel – but to pair that with left-field Yuletide sentiment is perhaps the boldest move of we-gotta-eat laziness in multiplexes this year.
Taking place pretty soon after the events of the first film, A Bad Moms Christmas sees the three titular bad moms knee-deep in Christmas stress. Recently-divorced Amy (Mila Kunis) is trying to have a chill Christmas this year with her new beau (Jay Hernandez) and his young daughter when her haughty, high-maintenance mom (Christine Baranski) and put-upon dad (Peter Gallagher) show up. Kiki (Kristen Bell) sees her clingy, boundariless widowed mother (Cheryl Hines) arrive and essentially graft herself to her daughter – she even sits in the corner and tries to watch when Kiki engages in her daily post-Blue Bloods trip to the bone zone. Brassy Carla (Kathryn Hahn) has a mother (Susan Sarandon) who’s somehow even more out of control and immature than she is; her gambling addiction is presumably what brings her back to Chicago.
If they gave an Academy award based entirely on how much of a movie is spent in slow-motion shenanigans or other montages of frolicking, A Bad Moms Christmas would definitely take the crown from the original Bad Moms. Director Jon Lucas and Scott Moore seem to confuse “fun” with “funny”, repeatedly putting their cast through frantic shenanigans (a drunken mall crawl, a romp through an indoor entertainment center) that don’t so much contain jokes as they do slightly humorous situations like a character doing a backflip or another getting hit in the nuts. Slow motion partying and incredulous reaction shots comprise a solid 15 to 20% of A Bad Moms Christmas, which seems like a relatively manageable amount before you consider that the rest isn’t exactly a laff riot.
Like all comedies of its kind, A Bad Moms Christmas gets a fair bit of mileage simply from its stars and their relative comfort in their canned roles. Bringing the moms’ moms into the mix spreads everything relatively thin, though, and only Baranski manages to get consistent laughs in what is essentially just a variation on Lucille Bluth. Hines and Sarandon feel more wasted, the latter barely given a character beyond a cowboy hat and liberal use of the word “bitch” as a noun and an adjective.
I suppose part of the problem with A Bad Moms Christmas is that last word in its title, the dreaded heartwarming holiday patina that covers at least two studio movies a year – if we’re lucky. All Christmas movies inevitably have to be about the spirit of Christmas and how to stop being such a consumerist dink long enough to appreciate your family. I suppose knowing that you’re going to get this no matter what is half the battle, but it remains that the Christmas spirit contained within A Bad Moms Christmas feels defeated and deflated. I guess it’s preferable to something cloying and syrupy, but for a movie that goes out of its way to throw shade at Love Actually, it certainly doesn’t live too far down the block.
Everything you need to know about A Bad Moms Christmas can be found in its credits sequence, really. Most mainstream comedies like this end with the entire cast being led into a choreographed dance number; 80% of the time, it’s a diegetic scene that happens within the action of the movie (almost always a wedding). In A Bad Moms Christmas, it’s a completely separate scene that gathers the entirety of the cast together to frolic against a tacky holiday backdrop like an Old Navy ad from the early 2000s. It’s yet another excuse to stuff some fucking around and goofing off in a movie that is already crammed to the gills with the same kind of stuff.
There’s a difference between a movie that feels effortless and one that feels like absolutely no effort was made beyond what immediately needs to be done to get 100-ish minutes of footage on a hard drive to 3000 screens across the country. I don’t want to minimize the hard work that all kinds of below-the-line people did on A Bad Moms Christmas, but one thing is clear: everyone with their name on the poster was clearly in Friday-afternoon-before-holidays mode. ■
A Bad Moms Christmas opens in theatres on Wednesday, Nov 1. Watch the trailer here: