Overview: Three best friend moms, Amy, Kiki, and Carla, are intent on giving their kids the best Christmas ever – until their own moms show up and ruin everything. STX Entertainment; 2017; Rated R; 104 minutes.
The Moms Are Back For More: A Bad Moms Christmas follows the mild success of Bad Moms, released only last year. The Christmas version reunites the characters played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn as three moms with wildly different personalities and parenting strategies who all have one trait in common: the desire to be bad. From getting food court drunk in the middle of the day to making obscene Christmas cookies for the PTA, these three friends are fiercely independent women who also deeply love their children. The major issues in A Bad Moms Christmas arise from the mostly unexpected arrival of each of their own moms during the Christmas period. These moms (now grandmas) Ruth (Christine Baranski), Isis (Susan Sarandon), and Sandy (Cheryl Hines) are in fact much, much worse than our titular bad moms.
The grandmothers light up the screen with different, appalling quirks and parenting styles. While Susan Sarandon has stolen every show she has ever been in, the real star here is Ruth. As Amy’s mom, Ruth would make Emily Gilmore blush. She rips her husband and her daughter from start to finish, while also giving her grandkids constant and lavish gifts. “Here you go, children, have some Xboxes,” she declares as soon as she walks through the door of her daughter’s house. The addition of three more moms to the Bad Moms formula does not dissipate the emotional core as one might think, but actually develops that core into something more provocative and interesting.
The Moms are not so bad. Christmas is: The title Bad Moms is somewhat antithetical to what this series actually wants to convey. Sure, these moms act insane and sometimes like they’re in college, but the general power behind this movie is that society unfairly determines a mother as being bad or negligent because of their actions that do not even affect their children. The proposition that the act of love is not nearly as important as the intention to love is a rather radical ideal when it comes to mothering. These three moms consistently affirm their love for their kids and act unselfishly towards them while acting rightfully selfishly towards their own mothers. All six moms fill every frame with overwhelmingly spiteful acts, but it is only when that spite indirectly harms some of the children that they step back and assess the selfishness of their own actions.
This movie is anti-mom-shaming to its core. Getting midday drunk and grinding on the mall Santa Claus is a heroic act, a performative stance against the status quo that posits mothers as defenseless and subdued. Society’s interpretation of good parenting causes the issues in A Bad Moms Christmas. Every mother feels the overbearing pressure to ensure a perfect Christmas experience for their children. This stress combined with jobs and taking care of their families boils over with the arrival of the grandmothers. “Are we not taking Christmas back this year? I’m asking seriously. I got so drunk at the mall I don’t remember if we actually agreed to that or if it was just something in my own head,” Carla declares, leading the moms to forsake the Nutcracker for a trampoline park, attend a sexy Santa male-stripper competition, and confront their own mothers for their past and current transgressions.
Funny moms: With such a pure and sincere emotional core, it’s a shame that A Bad Moms Christmas just isn’t a better movie. The moms and grandmoms bring unique voices to each character, but watching the movie made me wonder if the three main moms would be better writing their own characters. Kristen Bell has proven her wit lately with the major comedic success of The Good Place; Kathryn Hahn has always been one of the funniest women in the world to me; and Mila Kunis capably carries both comedic and dramatic beats. Why isn’t this movie hilarious then? This, like the predecessor, relies too much on elongated slow-motion sequences to prove just how bad these moms really are. These sequences, while basely entertaining, suck most of the life out of the movie. With three incredibly quick comedic actresses playing characters that, at times, fit them all too well, a better script would have highlighted both the absurdity of their friendship and the speed with which they can all deliver comedy. The best moment comes at a PTA Christmas cookie making event, where they deliver line after foul-mouthed line, ripping their own moms, making fun of their children, and decorating R-rated cookies.
Overall: A Bad Moms Christmas offers an honest and shameless assessment of the societal pressure a mother takes on at certain “key” events in a child’s life. The movie shows grace to the characters by allowing them to screw up and still be good parents. Where A Bad Moms Christmas falls short is in the comedy, which manages to be sparsely funny and punctuated with more misses than hits. A script on the level of some of the other female-helmed comedies of late (like Girl’s Trip (2017)) could have catapulted this movie into something truly sensational, but as it stands the movie is occasionally powerful and rarely hilarious.
Featured Image: STX Entertainment