Movies

‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ Strands A Great Cast In A Rancid Holiday Comedy

A Bad Moms Christmas, the new female comedy by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers-turned-directors of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Bad Moms, and uncredited rewrites of 27 Dresses and Monster-in-Law, feels like opening a dollar store advent calendar. You know what’s inside is supposed to be a treat — you’ve been craving more films with great comediennes like Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis, here reprising their roles as three suburban moms who double the cocktails when their own mothers visit for the holidays. But the candy inside is an imitation of joy, a waxen, tasteless, lump whose existence is an insult to real chocolate. Starving audiences might have to gobble Bad Moms Christmas anyway and taste guilt — the shame that Hahn and Bell and Kunis can’t get better material, and the dirty hope that it makes money just so studios green-light more female-focused films. Maybe someday one of those will get to be directed and written by women, and have characters that resemble an actual human girl.

Instead of truly funny jokes about motherhood and emotional exhaustion, this is cheap junk, a bizarro version of female empowerment driven by strippers and cleavage and binge-drinking and emotional breakdowns. There are 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? I imagine the scriptwriting process entailed shoving a bunch of CafeMom.com listicles into a sieve — “9 Craziest Things Parents Have Done to Get Kids to Believe in Santa Claus,” “10 Tacky Christmas Decorations Guaranteed to Make You Laugh,” “17 Stages of Trying to Save Your Money & Sanity While Holiday Shopping” — and straining the yuks into a Cathy coffee mug until the gags could be played by Zac Efron in a wig. It’s a vision of womankind that imagines that when women are alone, they simply turn into men: shot-drinking, cursing, penis-obsessed frat dudes who end every sentence with “bitch,” as in “Let’s go slap some wieners, bitch.”

That line is said by Kathryn Hahn’s wastrel single mom Carla, a bikini waxer who spent the first film griping that she couldn’t bone her kid’s janitor (“What is this, Russia?”), to her even wilder mother Isis (Susan Sarandon), a drifter who enters the film with the clatter of beer cans spilling from the shotgun seat of an 18-wheeler. Isis has arrived to celebrate Easter. She’s too wasted to realize it’s December, and too thoughtless to remember her teenage grandson’s name. (It’s Jaxon, and it doesn’t matter, even though actor Cade Mansfield Cooksey is very funny in a role that simply requires him to look dumb and get hit in the nuts.) When Carla protests that she loves her son, even though last Christmas she re-gave him some trash she found in his room, Sarandon shrugs, “I just cant keep up with the latest parenting trends.”

Carla has clearly slithered from Isis’ loins. The biological bond is also strong between Kristen Bell’s mother-of-four Kiki and her widowed mom Sandy (Cheryl Hines), who crosses the line from maternal to stalker when she shows up wearing a sweatshirt printed with her daughter’s face, and over-stressed Amy (Kunis) and the perfectionist beastdemon Ruth (Christine Baranski), who insults everything like she’s the Don Rickles of home décor. “I didn’t know Rite-Aid made Christmas decorations,” sniffs Ruth. No one does feigned astonishment better than Baranski, who was born with eyebrows trying to crawl into her hairline. And no wonder all three Bad Moms immediately head to the mall food court for beers.

“Have we learned nothing?” groans Hahn, as she pounds a brewski while commiserating about the female experience, which as seen here mainly consists of feeling inadequate for not gluing googly eyes to lobster claws, and infantilizing mandatory school activities where the women assemble gingerbread houses. Three guesses what Hahn draws with the white icing.

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 movie makes her apologize. As the end credits rolled, I found myself fixated on the lack of apostrophe in the title A Bad Moms Christmas. This isn’t for moms—it’s merely about them.

At least all the women in the film are terrific. Especially Bell, who has mutated Kiki’s demented doll charm into a spellbinding ditz. Everything astonishes her, even her own emotions, which she’s buried deep under her turtlenecks. She widens her eyes and looks at world like a bunny entranced by a snake. Kunis, stuck playing the relatable mother, is given the most screen-time and the least jokes. Her boyfriend Jessie (Jay Hernandez) might be better left out of the franchise at all, unless it doubles-down on the fact that he’s just a fantasy mannequin, a six-pack who can fix Christmas lights. I can barely remember him speaking except for the moment when Amy wails that she’s “not fucking Beyoncé,” and he beams, “You are to me.” Gag me with an Etsy card.

As directors, Lucas and Moore believe that anything worth doing is worth doing in slow-motion. To be fair, the best part of the original Bad Moms was Hahn’s epic rampage through the liquor aisle. Here, slow-motion just makes the film longer. The sequel’s brightest bit is when Hahn falls for a new customer 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 Hahn 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.)

Hahn pairs excellently with his gonzo charm. They both have a way of implying a whole dictionary of dirty things without saying a word. When he walks out of a scene, she stares after him with the pathos of an actress who’s ready for her big Oscar moment. If only the Oscars were ready for her kind of comedy. And if only she and the rest of the ladies got the great scripts they deserve.

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