I attended the original Bad Moms with trepidation. The horrible trailer suggested a kind of female The Hangover film (written and directed by the same duo). I was pleased to discover that it wasn’t. Underneath its raunchy exterior, the film held a smart critique of modern motherhood, a solid emotional core and most importantly, was funny. Barely a year later the sequel is here. It is silly and sentimental, but A Bad Moms Christmas is a jolly good time.
This film follows the events of Bad Moms, which was about under-appreciated and over-burdened mums, Amy, Kiki and Carla (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn). Only this time it’s Christmas and the festive season is taking a toll. “Why do I have to get a present for Kent’s mum?” asks Kiki, “I don’t even like her”. Adding to their woes, their own terrifying mothers are visiting. Cue a series of vignettes introducing their caricatured parents.
Sandy is Kiki’s mum (played entertainingly by Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm) and is obsessed with her daughter. She can’t decide if she wants to be Kiki’s best friend, or be Kiki — she mimics her haircut and dress sense and wears pyjamas brandishing her portrait. Personal boundaries are a foreign concept to her. Oscar winner Susan Sarandon is shaky as Carla’s mum. She is a Rock ’n’ roll chick and career roadie with a bad habit of arriving unannounced and asking for money. Think Ricki and the Flash minus the flash. Her name is Isis, which she explains is “like the terrorist organization” in a gag with the subtlety of a hand grenade.
Enter Ruth, who is the antithesis of her unassuming daughter Amy and played in a show-stealing performance by Christine Baranski (The Good Wife). She is aristocratic and wealthy, meticulously groomed and diabolical, her standards are as high as her designer heels. She hands out verbal barbs with the same frequency and nonchalance she hands her grandchildren expensive gifts, “Here, have an iPhone”. Dissatisfied with being a mere guest, Ruth overthrows Amy’s plans. She has organised an elaborate Christmas party with Kenny G as the headliner, who is “cheaper than you might think”. I laughed out loud when Ruth dresses Amy in a Dickensian outfit and forces her to go carolling around the neighbourhood.
Baranski’s straight-faced delivery provides most of the laughs throughout the slightly long 1hr 44m running time. Ten minutes could have easily been cut by avoiding cliched montages in slow-motion showing just how wild the mums are. A few more could have been shredded by stopping when jokes don’t work. There’s a lazy trend in modern comedy of using ‘long jokes’, a technique popularized by Family Guy. You take a moderately funny joke and repeat it until it grows tiresome, then gets funny again. It’s like compressing coal until it turns into a diamond, though rarely bears the same result. A grotesque scene involving “balls, taint, and asshole” waxing is a case-study in how not to do this. Luckily, more often than not the gags hit their mark.
It is a testament to the commitment and congeniality of the actresses that A Bad Moms Christmas works at all. Attempting to unpack the jumbled mess of a plot is like untangling Christmas lights from a long-discarded box. Beneath the occasional vulgarity and sentimental, senseless story there are hints of what could have been had they spent six more months in pre-production. Regardless, what we got is fun fluff, a series of skits fueled by flawed relationships in a suburban neighbourhood. Something we have seen a thousand times, but it works. When a third instalment was teased in the final act I couldn’t help but think that I would happily sit down to watch Mom’s Mom is a Bad Mom or whatever inane title is chosen. I just hope it’s not so soon.