ISIS, cancer, homelessness and Jews are all fair game for comedy in Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s quick turn around sequel to last year’s reasonably successful Bad Moms. Essentially following the footsteps of many a generic sequel, the totally inessential A Bad Moms Christmas rehashes round one to derivative effect. Up with the ante, down with originality.
The premise of Bad Moms was fun, daft and oddly relatable. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn played three two point four mums in middle class America, raising their kids amid the absurdly competitive environment that is the PTA. Tired of conformity, the trio broke loose, went rogue and had a laugh. This time, Christmas is their albatross – ‘No more perfect gifts, no more perfect decorations, no more perfect anything’ – but there’s a twist because, guess what, their own mothers are coming to stay. Each turns up at their respective daughter’s front door, conveniently for the narrative, exactly five days before Christmas and brings hitherto unmentioned baggage to the lives of the protagonists.
In shameless typecasting (beaten only by a same old same old turn from Wanda Sykes), The Big Bang Theory’s Christine Baranski is once again recruited to play ‘the most critical human being on the planet’ as Amy’s (Kunis) mum Ruth. Along she rocks with weakly doting husband Hank (Peter Gallagher) primed solely to deliver snide, and occasionally witty, barbs like ‘Oh it’s adorable that you let your kids do the cooking’, when presented with her daughter’s buffet. Cheryl Hines is Bell’s mum Sandy, who we’re supposed to believe is obsessed with her daughter, despite her total absence up to now, whilst Susan Sarandon comes out best as Hahn’s gambling fly by night of a mother Isis.
So thinly written are these joke-ammunition caricatures that their actions and mannerisms literally change from scene to scene. After decorating Amy’s house in the most gaudy tribute to the twelve days of Christmas lyrics, Ruth proceeds to demand that they snub the ‘tacky’ Nutcracker ballet in favour of some five hour Russian ‘original’. She turns her nose up at churros, spouts out that ‘Moms don’t enjoy, they give joy’ and then jumps at the chance to play dodgeball. She’s as artificial as the Christmas tree that her daughter, Kiki (Bell) and Carla (Hahn) pinch from the local mall.
Working with the developments allowed in the first film, the original trio do fair better – just. With her distinctive laugh and weary likability, Kunis remains endearing, whilst Bell and Hahn are worthy, comic sidekicks. An over reliance on stupidity – not to mention endless use of slow motion and on-the-nose soundtrack choices – may predominate but it is in the moments these friends share alone on screen that Moore and Lucas manage to deliver the odd rye line about real life parenting.
Great that it is to see more female driven comedies being produced, A Bad Moms Christmas joins the ranks of Girls Trip and Rough Night this year in theme, attitude and the inclusion of objectified male strippers. Individually this is fine – goodness knows there are too many male comedies doing the same reversed – but, as a set, it’s actually insulting to all. Here, Carla falls ‘in love’ with Justin Hartley’s stripper-with-emotions-too-you-know on the sight of his enormous nether regions, Amy’s dull boyfriend of the first film Jessie (Jay Hernandez) contributes nothing and neither does surname-less Kiki’s erstwhile arse of a domineering husband Kent (Lyle Brocato). Is it to much to ask to have female or male driven comedies with male or female supporting characters who are, at least, rounded and real individuals?
Ramming the Meet the Parents concept into Bad Moms, with a dollop of Christmas screwball, might have worked better had more time been spent at the drawing board. As it is, A Bad Moms Christmas is too forced and messy to truly entertain. As Amy puts it: ‘I can’t do this s**t sober’.