The desire for a perfect family holiday is something that extends to everyone – not just mothers. That said, the stakes are a lot higher if you are a mom. You face the insurmountable scrutiny of your entire family, risking disappointment despite your best efforts. Writer-directors John Lucas and Scott Moore’s A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS sets out to put a comedic spin on our stresses and fears around the holiday season as only they can do with the franchise’s raucous ribaldry. Trouble is the laughter only goes so far.
Amy (Mila Kunis) is really feeling the pressure of the holiday season. If it’s not enough that she’s tasked with all the cooking, shopping and schlepping, her own mother, Ruth (Christine Baranski), arrives just in time to make sure she’s miserable. Kiki (Kristen Bell) is also anticipating the arrival of her mother, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), who’s like an Olympian in boundary crossing, wearing clothes with her daughter’s face all over, sporting the same haircut. Meanwhile, Carla (Kathryn Hahn, who is any movie’s MVP) gets an unwelcomed-but-tolerated surprise visit from her flaky mom Isis (Susan Sarandon), who barely knows it’s almost Christmas. In order to keep their sanity, the three friends make a pact to “take back the holiday,” barring their mothers from ruining their good time. Hijinks and hilarity ensue – well, to an extent.
Lucas and Moore’s script is underdeveloped – possibly rushed into production after the warranted success of the first film. Narratively, there’s not enough genuine, resonant heart to buoy this second chapter with our beloved moms. We don’t learn the moms’ moms’ names until well into the second act. You might even begin to think Peter Gallagher, as Amy’s father, plays a mute until he says his first line around the twenty minute mark. Kiki, re-established here as the harried mother, could use another helping hand around the house. It seems unlikely she’d turn that down, even if those hands belonged to someone as suffocating as Sandy. It’s almost impossible to buy that Kiki, the weird one of the crew, would have any self-awareness towards her mother’s overbearing codependency. She’d think this was the norm. Kiki’s journey towards independence should start with Amy and Carla pointing out it’s weird and it going from there. Yet it’s not handled this intelligently. The same can be said of Carla, Amy and their mothers. Further enlightened, earned moments should’ve been applied to both Ruth and Isis’ inevitable apologies. Instead these ideas are surprisingly left on the table. Useless, unimaginative title cards announce how many days it is until Christmas. Unlike how this is handled in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, these add nothing to the proceedings except breaking up the flow. Let’s also not forget the ten minute commercial for Sky Zone in the middle of the movie, which takes product placement to another level.
Humor comes at a cost. The dick jokes are more obligatory than funny. It’s just not enough to say slang terms for ones dirty bits and show male strippers. That’s been covered in countless films prior. Ty Swindel (Justin Hartley) is this film’s “Nick the Dick,” except with a heart of gold. Improv-based riffs aren’t nearly what they once were. Sure, Carla again gets all the good one-liners (“genital herpes” being the best of the bunch), but the other characters aren’t afforded the material to contribute much else to the melting pot – disappointing given they’re all such skilled comedic actors. It relies heavily on the original’s “drunkenly tearing sh*t up while loud synth music assaults your ears” montage (momtage?). I’d be in full support of it if they did anything remotely clever with this particular one. Ruth plying her grandkids with high-end gifts is more of a predictable comedy response than anything – one that will elicit a “my mother does that too!” from a few moms in the audience. It’s way too familiar and superficial a joke, yet it’s a running gag. The irreverence and uproarious shenanigans are manufactured, occasionally bordering on abhorrent. Isis and Ruth have a canned food drive which amounts to them stealing groceries out of the carts of shoppers. They rationalize it as stealing from rich people. Sandy’s long-running joke is saying she has a litany of diseases to garner sympathy from Kiki. It’s not funny. Ruth’s other long-running gag is that she can’t remember Jessie (Jay Hernandez), Amy’s hot steady boyfriend. It’s okay Ruth. We can barely remember him either.
Listen, in a year of female-drive raunchcoms (a bounty I celebrate), BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS is probably the worst of the crop. Never reaching the lofty heights of GIRLS TRIP, or even the lows of ROUGH NIGHT or SNATCHED for that matter, this present is akin to a lump of coal in all our stockings. It’s enough to make you put your own spin on this film’s festivities, giving it a big, “Ma humbug.”
A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS opens on November 1.