This post marks an interesting milestone for the Movie March! With A Bad Moms Christmas, the Bad Moms franchise becomes the first to put out two films in a series since I started up this little project. If you caught my review of the original, you’ll remember that it was a pleasant surprise. It was also a well-crafted and -timed film that aimed for an underserved target audience and legged it to a whopping worldwide box office total of approximately $184 million. With a game cast and a fun, original, wish-fulfilling (for some) premise, Bad Moms hit the spot and it took little time for a sequel to be greenlit and put into production.
However, a huge mistake was also almost made with regards to that (this) follow-up. Originally, it was announced that the sequel would actually be a spin-off entitled Bad Dads. Not only would that premise have fallen directly in line with a multitude of characterizations of men that have been seen ad nauseum in the world of film before this, but it also would have been an instance of a bunch of male studio heads deciding that the answer to a supremely successful film starring women was to get rid of them and hand the sequel off to a men.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and now we have A Bad Moms Christmas with the previous cast fully in tact. That can only be good news because the three leads of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn are all excellent comedic performers and getting to see them in this environment is always virtually guaranteed to be a blast. Bell, especially, has excellent timing but seems to spend too many films playing the straight role. Not in this franchise, though. Here, everyone gets to shine. Well . . . theoretically.
In A Bad Moms Christmas, the moms – Amy, Kiki, and Carla (Kunis, Bell, and Hahn, respectively) – are feeling the pressure of the holiday season when, to compound the issue, their own moms, who are all genuinely bad moms, come to visit for Christmas. It’s a simple concept that honestly feels like a natural progression for the series. After all, what better than to flip the script on our leads and give them a taste of their own medicine. On paper, the idea appears brilliant with a plethora of comedic possibilities. In execution, it causes more problems than it’s worth.
The fun of the original Bad Moms film was rooted in the relationships and interactions among the three leads and seeing them cut loose and have fun, long after they had largely forgotten how to do so. I have discussed in the past how difficult sequels can be because the audience is wanting and expecting both more of the same and something fresh at the same time. That’s a difficult proposition. A Bad Moms Christmas certainly gives the audience something fresh for the franchise but it’s at the expense of nearly everything that viewers loved about the initial installment.
The moments in which the leads are together and rebelling against the system are as fun as they were in Bad Moms. Not everything they do is actually all that “bad”, but their joy is infectious. Even when the humor is lacking true wit and creativity, it’s full of so much enthusiasm and Kunis, Bell, and Hahn are so committed to their performance that it’s hard to not revel in their attempts at mischief right alongside them. Also as in the original film, the three women truly enjoy each other’s company and are genuinely friends. None of them take themselves too seriously, they openly laugh at each other’s jokes (how often does that actually happen in film and television?), and they’re just so authentic that they are irresistibly likeable. Bell’s Kiki is still my favorite of the bunch due to her unapologetic earnestness and naiveté. But all three of the leads deliver. So, this all sounds great, so far, right?
Well, the problem comes with the introduction of Amy’s, Kiki’s, and Carla’s mothers (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon, respectively). While all talented actors, the first issue is that none of them have the comedic chops of their storyline daughters. Hines is the best of the three, but there are plenty of timing and delivery issues all across the board regarding the mothers. But, more so than that, the most crippling problem is that the mothers get in the way of what audiences have paid to see: the original leads hanging out and having fun.
In order to manage their dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, Kunis, Bell, and Hahn spend the vast majority of the film separated and interacting with their movie mothers. And, unlike the original trio of friends, these relationships are all contentious, cringe worthy, and – I suspect for many – far too close to home. There’s no fun in these interactions. There is also very little humor. Don’t get me wrong; there are attempts at humor. But there is very little success. I’m not going to claim that there’s not a single funny moment in the entire movie, because that’s certainly not true (for me, the biggest laugh actually came from a well-known personality making a cameo as themselves and, again, when Kunis, Bell, and Hahn are together, all is fine), but the true winning moments are unfortunately scarce.
I can’t blame the filmmakers for attempting to inject some new blood into the festivities by introducing the protagonists’ mothers. After all, the original trio needs to have some sort of opportunity for growth and, had this film simply been a complete rehash of the first but during the holidays, from where would that opportunity have come? But in trying something a little different, the underpinnings of the franchise that provided the foundation for viewer fun and financial success in the first film were almost entirely jettisoned for this sequel. The few moments that are to be had are still good, but there just aren’t enough of them.
In my mind, a better approach would have been to forgo the mother angle entirely and just tell a true-meaning-of-Christmas story with the once-again exasperated-by-life original trio. Yes, it’s been done a million other times in a million other movies. But it would have allowed the audience to spend more time with Kunis, Bell, and Hahn doing their thing together and the backdrop of the holiday season would have been enough to make it feel different from Bad Moms. I sincerely appreciate what directors/co-writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore were going for. I really do. But, for the most part, A Bad Moms Christmas feels like any one of the umpteen comedy wannabes that are released with no fanfare and then forgotten. This cast and this franchise deserve better.
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