Synopsis – As their own mothers drop in unexpectedly, our three under-appreciated and over-burdened moms rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for mothers: Christmas.
My Take – I understand that a comedy film can divide an audience, mainly as the genre itself is subjective and of course still a major chunk of an audience (like myself) don’t really like it when a film is being raunchy just for the sake of bringing out the laughs. Last July, an aptly titled comedy film about overworked and unappreciated hit it big at the box office, crossing the $100 million mark by September, even though the reviews were mixed and the film’s premise wasn’t especially innovative, yet with the writers of the first Hangover film, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, at the helm and an exciting main cast lead by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn, that clicked beautifully, the film turned out to be a bright spot in the middle of a slate of depressingly mediocre summer studio releases. With the astounding yet unexpected success, a sequel was rushed into production (of course), that too with a holiday theme, and now 17 months later, the gang is back with little or no promotion, but with promising new additions. Sadly, this sequel is nowhere close to the original, and nowhere near as funny. Personally, I did enjoy the original film, mainly due to the chemistry between its leads, sure, they had funny material to work with but without their individual performances, the film would have been a decent yet forgettable film. While, the sequel manages to retain the chemistry and some of the humor from the first film, it’s not enough to carry a 104 minute film. Taking place 18 months after the events of the first film, the story follows Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), three underappreciated and overworked moms trying to get ready for Christmas.
Amy’s divorce has just been finalized; she’s still dating dreamy widower dad Jesse (Jay Hernandez), while Kiki is still running herself ragged with the four young kids, but her husband seems to be pitching in a little more and Carla is her same kooky self. Adding to this situation is the arrival of their mothers who only complicate matters instead of solving them. Amy’s mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski) is a high maintenance snob, Kiki’s mother Sandy (Cheryl Hines) mother is too clingy and does everything possible to remain attached to her daughter as her best friend, and Carla’s mother Isis (Susan Sarandon), is a dead beat and only sees the daughter when she needs something. Tired of the expectations of their families, the stress of the holidays and their own mothers, Amy, Kiki and Carla decide to take back Christmas their own way. This sequel relies on the time-worn Hollywood comedy principle of taking whatever worked in the last film and doubling it. Accordingly, there are twice as many moms in this film, and twice as many goofy set pieces. But that means it’s overstuffed now, and everyone gets short shrift in a story bolstered by stereotypes that seem less winking and more mean the second time around. Sure, there are plenty of “shocking” bawdy jokes, so many dick-and-testicle jokes that you’re surprised only by the ones that weren’t written. What, no cheese ball-licking bit? No hide-the-gift-basket-salami? Are they saving those gems in case they ever need to write The Hangover 4? But it’s all feels very familiar, but whereas the sillier plot points of the original film seemed to grow more or less organically from the characters’ own evolution, here everything feels vaguely rushed, as if directors Lucas and Moore were following a checklist of things to squeeze into the studio-mandated 104-minute runtime (except the Sky Zone scene, which goes on seemingly forever for no good reason). While in and of itself it seemed like a good idea to add the three mothers of the original characters to plot, it actually resulted in this being a film more about the mothers of the original moms, than it is about the bad moms themselves. In particular, this is mostly about Amy and her domineering (and thoroughly unlikable) mother, although of course the other two moms and their mothers get plenty of screen time too. The weird thing is that, contrary to the original film, the bad moms are no longer bad at all in any respect, in fact trying like crazy to win their mothers’ approval and love and pleasing their respective loved ones as best they can. Yes, there is one scene early in the film where the moms go crazy during a shopping mall spree, but that’s about it. If this film wasn’t written by the same writer/director team, I would claim that they just ripped the first film off. But it is the same team so all I can say is that this is a lazy script. The worst part of this film is how the plot is so recycled from the first film. They did add the 3 grandmas but other than that, they just did the same thing with a Christmas theme. The families are ungrateful, the moms are burned out and they throw tradition to the wind and cut loose to decidedly mixed results.
Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore also stuff their film with plenty of cameos (Kenny G, Wanda Sykes, Christina Applegate and others are here for a minute or two) and try to even things out among the mothers. Ruth, though, gets the most screen time, sparing no expense to turn Amy’s home into a winter wonderland. Why her daughter objects is the biggest question of all. (If mom is going to pay for everything, let her do it, right?) The two square off and wind up in a Christmas standoff. Sandy makes more of her time as the mom who just wants to be her daughter’s bestie. She wears clothes with Bell’s photo on them, buys the house next door and doesn’t really know when enough is enough. The two manage to get a therapist appointment (over the holidays!) and spill all to Sykes, who just rolls her eyes – as we do. The Carla & Isis plot is the most undeveloped of all, as the Mom, apparently, lacks morals and financial support, which doesn’t play well with her daughter, who waxes nether regions for a living. I’m not saying the 2015 film was the deepest comedy on the market but they did a much better job making the characters feel realistic and their dilemmas were familiar and believable. This film is sorely lacking those qualities and although the problems aren’t unrealistic (the Hahn/Sarandon conflict and kernels of Kunis and Baranski‘s could happen) they’re resolved in a rushed and simple manner just like any sitcom. If anything, the film has made everyone dumber. At least the original one attempted to understand the pressures of modern motherhood. I assume Lucas and Moore at least bothered to ask their wives. Strangely, the sequel seems to agree that our heroines do suck, after all. A therapist (Wanda Sykes) blames Kiki for driving her mother crazy. (Her crime is being born.) And when Amy’s kids blame her for fighting with the grandma who bribes them with X-Boxes and iPhones, the film makes her apologize. As the end credits rolled, I found myself realizing this isn’t for moms—it’s merely about them. The sequel’s brightest bit is when Hahn falls for a new customer named by Ty played by Justin Hartley, a Santa Claus stripper with a jumbo peppermint stick. As he leans back on her waxing table, he flips his parts up so she can defoliate his scrotum — the sound effect is like a pot roast hitting the floor. Hartley’s mostly done TV, but his crooked, almost maniacal smile when Carla gives his crotch hair a yank made me want to see a lot more of him. (I don’t just mean the later scene when he motorboats Sarandon.) However, when it comes to effective screen chemistry, the combined casting of these six women deserves praise. Even though, Mila Kunis serves as the film’s de facto focus (and narrator) gets a little lost in the large ensemble cast but still gives it her all with her trademark infectiousness, while Kristen Bell restrains herself admirably in the presence of more colorful characters, often providing a modicum of normalcy to the various outlandishness that bursts on to the screen. However, it’s Kathryn Hahn, who is once again the show-stealer here. Delivering hilarious one-liners and being the raunchiest of the group, she really does earn a lot of laughs from audiences. Christine Baranski dominates every scene she’s in, whether she’s handing out endless expensive gifts to her grandchildren or treating Jessie as domestic Latin help and of course, destroying her daughter’s feelings of self-worth with devastating one-liners. Cheryl Hines is too effectively annoying. Susan Sarandon doesn’t really seem to know what she’s doing in the film but gamely gives a shot at playing a nomadic hippie with serious lack of self-control whether it comes to substances, gambling or sex. Jay Hernandez and Peter Gallagher manage to be good in their small roles. On the whole, ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ is a ludicrous sequel, which despite the excellent chemistry among the leads, misses the charm, fun plot and humor of the original.
Rated – R
Run Time – 104 minutes