REVIEW – ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ aka ‘Bad Moms 2’

Comedy sequels rarely work. For every 22 Jump Street, there is a The Hangover 2. Even with its consistent failure to receive awards season praise, comedy is bloody difficult. When it does succeed, it’s magic. Attempting to recreate that magic is nigh-on impossible. But these days, when a comedy strikes box-office gold, a sequel is all but assured.

So, here we are with a Bad Moms sequel, A Bad Moms Christmas (for some reason lazily re-titled as Bad Moms 2 in Australia), only 15 months after the original took a staggering $185m worldwide. Is that box-office result the only reason we’re back for seconds? Yes. Yes, it is. But who cares? It’s Christmas. Lighten up. Have a drink, and enjoy some fluffy cinema, just this once.

Let’s be honest here. The original wasn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. But it was wonderfully cast, with a terrific ensemble of brilliant female comedic performers, particularly the sublime Kathryn Hahn. It also had tremendous heart, and was genuinely funny. It worked, and it found an audience. Why bemoan it receiving a sequel? Nobody should be expecting anything from this movie than what they got the first around. And in that regard, A Bad Moms Christmas is a success.

Picking up shortly after the events of its predecessor, A Bad Moms Christmas finds Amy (Mila Kunis) gearing up for her family’s first Christmas since her divorce. Blissfully happy with her new beau and fellow-divorcee, Jesse (Jay Hernandez), Amy is loathing the exhausting chaos Christmas always seems to be for poor, suffering mothers everywhere. The presents. The decorations. The tree. The cooking. It all has to be perfect, and it inevitably falls to Mom to accomplish, all by herself.

Turning to her new “bad Mom” gal pals Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn, again the MVP), the trio make a pact to take back Christmas for themselves this year. That means no perfect Christmas tree (Amy swipes one from a Lady Foot Locker), no sweet family photos with Santa (the ladies get drunk and twerk on Santa instead), and all-round bad Mom shenanigans. But their plans for a self-indulgent holiday season are quickly brought to a crashing halt by the sudden arrival of their respective mothers.

Amy’s snobby control-freak of a mother, Ruth (Christina Baranski, in sublime form), arrives with doting husband, Hank (Peter Gallagher), and immediately begins to tear apart Amy’s paltry Christmas efforts with her passive-aggressive zingers. Ruth, with her love of extravagance and decadence, is immediately determined to put this Christmas back on the path to perfection. Kiki’s mother, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), is a stage-five clinger (she wears pyjamas with Kiki’s face on them) who has no concept of boundaries with her daughter, after the death of her husband left her desperately lonely. And finally, there’s Carla’s mother, Isis (Susan Sarandon) – “as in the terrorist organisation” – a freeloading drifter, who only seems to breeze in and out of her daughter’s life when she needs a loan and a place to crash.

As the mothers being to involve themselves in their respective daughters’ festive season, conflict is unavoidable, especially when the bad Moms plans for a stress-free holiday slowly begin to fade away. What follows is a series of wacky misadventures and ridiculous set pieces you’ll either love or loath, depending on your feelings towards the first film.

Some work wonderfully well – a dodgeball game between all three families is slapstick comedy gold. Some fall rather flat – the male stripper sequence is no Magic Mike. And there’s a scene involving Carla waxing the genitals of oddly-sweet male stripper, Ty (Justin Hartley) which somehow manages to be both wonderfully hilarious and oddly romantic. For all its faults, there are some great one-liners (particularly from Baranski) dotted throughout the clearly hastily-written screenplay. It’s a film that’s never really trying to be anything it’s not, and that has to be admired.

The real success here is the cast. Kunis and Bell aren’t given much else to do but to react to the madness around them. Even so, they both handle it with style and confidence, and their characters are ultimately relatable and sympathetic. As with the original, the standout bad Mom is Hahn, who once again proves she’s one of the funniest actresses working today. The utterly fearless Hahn holds nothing back, and takes Carla to the craziest and darkest of places that really are a joy to behold. Her scenes with Hartley are the film’s highlights, and the two have the strangest chemistry you’ll never see coming.

As for the new additions, Hines’ Sandy is the least developed, but she makes the most of what she’s given. We can all relate to those moments when our mothers cross the line into our personal lives, although Sandy takes it to the most extreme. Sarandon’s Isis seems to borrow rather heavily from her co-star Goldie Hawn’s work in The Banger Sisters. She’s the gypsy rocker you’d be more likely to find in a bar than a nursery, and it’s clear she never should have procreated. But for all her misgivings and terrible parenting skills, there’s a genuine heart of gold, hiding underneath all her ineptitude.

But the film is stolen completely by Baranski, who can play this kind of primadonna matriarch with one hand tied behind her back. Baranski always gives great comedy, and she’s in her element here. Even the lamest of gags are sold with expert precision, especially her banter with Amy and a running joke where she constantly forgets how Jesse fits into her daughter’s life. Yes, he’s Hispanic. And yes, she mistakes him for the help. With her acid-laced tongue and overwhelming hubris, Ruth is hard to love, but she’ll win you over by the film’s conclusion, thanks in large part to her wonderfully developed backstory, regarding her own relationship with her harsh mother.

The six ladies all have wonderful chemistry together, and the scenes where they combine are the moments the film really fires. And the individual chemistry of the original trio with their respective mothers works perfectly, even if it is a little difficult to picture Ukraine-native Kunis as the offspring of New Yorkers Baranski and Gallagher. Each relationship is vastly different, and each brings its own set of parenting styles. By showcasing this different styles, we see the film’s hidden universal message – there really is no right or wrong way to parenting.

It would be easy to pop on the serious film critic hat and tear this film to shreds. And many likely will. It’s easy to criticise a sequel which doesn’t deviate too far from its original, and merely changes the setting and adds a few characters. The screenplay is a rather jumbled mess. Its initial “rebellion against Christmas” plot does seem to dissipate rather quickly, and the bad Moms don’t exactly fight the system like they did in the first film. The dynamic of the original trio also barely develops any further from its predecessor, which is a missed opportunity. When you rush a script together, these are the problems you’ll face.

But it’s hard to be so harshly critical of a film that’s just wants to make you laugh by way of relating to familial situations we’ve all found ourselves in, especially during the holiday season. If that’s its only mission, it succeeds completely. Grab your best friends (and maybe even your mom too), have a glass of wine, and just enjoy this deliciously silly piece of cinema.

Much like the original, A Bad Moms Christmas is overflowing with a hefty dose of heart, a hefty dose of laughs, and really is one of the few films to highlight the most thankless job in this world – being a Mom.

★★★☆☆

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