Cheryl Hines and Kristen Bell in A Bad Moms Christmas.
In the first act of rebellion in the holiday comedy sequel A Bad Moms Christmas, the three titular mothers, faced with a hellish mall Santa meet and greet, decide to ditch the scene and drink beers at the food court. Never mind the fact that they don’t appear to be with their children or have any obligation to wait in line for said mall Santa, nor do any mall food courts I know of allow open containers — if you’re paying attention to these inconsistencies, you’re already losing at watching A Bad Moms Christmas. After a generalized commiseration about how stressful Christmas is for moms and how they can’t stand the pressure to pull off the perfect holiday, they decide, vaguely but vehemently, to “take Christmas back.” A LMFAO soundalike that was unfortunately released in 2016 called “Do Something Crazy” blares, and one of the moms violently shoves a mall elf in slow motion. I guess that is a pretty crazy thing to do, if you indeed must do something crazy.
This is the first of a handful of mayhem montages that pepper the sequel to last year’s Bad Moms, a film that made $113 million dollars on a $20 million budget. The second one takes place at a bleak-looking bouncy house called a “Sky Zone,” which I, as a cosmopolitan nonparent (who is still apparently older than any of the moms in this film were when they had their children), had to look up to verify was a real franchise. (It is, and I can’t begin to imagine how much they paid for what amounts to a ten-minute endorsement.) Both scenes involve the moms, who are perpetually on the edge of a nervous breakdown, either erupting into outsize violence or grabbing at their own breasts to emphasize … what, I’m not sure. A Bad Moms Christmas is a film about women trapped in a bleakly infantilizing suburban hellscape with horrible lighting, whose only idea about how to subvert their situation is to scream and push people and hit each other in the crotch.
This film, as well as its predecessor, was written by two men, and not just any two men, but the two men behind The Hangover series. (Dear Men: Why do you still think that the same thing happens when a woman gets hit in the crotch? Do you still not know where the clitoris is?) It revolves around the arrival of the original trio (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn) and the arrival of their mothers for the holidays, who are each infuriating in their own ways. Hahn’s mom (Susan Sarandon) is a grifter, Bell’s mom (Cheryl Hines) loves her a little too much. Christine Baranski plays Kunis’s mom, who expects nothing less than a Christmas Spectacular from her daughter. The regular pressures of pulling off the perfect Christmas are compounded by this new layer of Bad Moms–on–Bad Mom action, all of which is sure to lead to the Worst Christmas Ever.
A Bad Moms Christmas is a film whose premise is that Moms Have Had Enough, which is certainly never wrong, and a premise that has clearly led to great financial success. But the moms have had enough based on expectations that feel culled from some 1950s handbook of motherhood — what on earth is a “perfect Christmas” in 2017? What standards do these women feel they must live up to, and what on earth is aspirational about watching the moms rebel against them in such dull, base, crotch-punching ways?
It’s painful to watch a talented cast grimace their way through this stuff. Kunis, a generally appealing presence, is uniquely bad at this — too bratty to be a straight woman, not to mention one of the more unbelievable screen mothers I’ve seen outside a CW soap. Baranski, Hines, and Hahn are all A-plus comic talents doing the best they can with material that made me embarrassed for them. Bell is fine. The end of the film sets up a threequel involving Baranski, Hines, and Sarandon that for a fleeting second I thought I wanted, based off the cast alone, but immediately knew better. While it can’t be called Bad Grandmas — that’s already been taken in the hypercompetitive “just say the name of the thing” comedy-title marketplace — Bad Moms of Moms is still up for grabs, and I promise you, not too stupid to become a reality.