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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas

A Bad Moms Christmas is being released just 15 months after the original Bad Moms movie.  It was filmed during the month of May, and just six months later, is playing on over 3,000 screens.  Where am I going with this?  It doesn't take a lot of thought to figure out that this is a total cash grab that was forced by the studio.  And while returning writers and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, as well as their returning female stars, do their best to stay afloat, it can't help but feel like a pale follow up to the hilarious original.

What separates the original from Christmas is a reason for existing.  The first Bad Moms was not only wildly funny, it had something to say about moms in general.  It had some smart and truthful observations about all the pressures and expectations that are placed upon mothers, as they race to please everyone in the family.  It also had some winning comedic performances by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and especially Kathryn Hahn, who all but walked away with most of her scenes.  All three actresses return for the sequel, and are actually just as good here as they were before.  But they're struggling with weaker material this time.  This is a movie that's been made under a strict deadline, and it shows.  There are a couple moments where I smiled, but none where I laughed like I did the first time around.  The script was rushed and not thought out as well, and so the actresses seem to be trying to rise above what they have to work with, rather than enjoying themselves.  And while it's never unwatchable, it does feel very desperate at times.

As the title suggests, the holidays have come, and returning moms Amy (Kunis), Kiki (Bell) and Carla (Hahn) find themselves struggling to make Christmas perfect for their families.  There are the gifts, decorating the house, going to school concerts, and generally trying not to crack under the pressure of keeping up a perfect home for the holidays.  There are plenty of opportunities for the movie to dig into some good satire or observations about the expectations of perfection that is forced upon all parents during this time of year, but it largely ignores each and every one.  Rather than have the moms bond and unite under shared stress as in the original, they simply get drunk, and we get a montage where they get nasty with a Mall Santa. (There are actually a lot of montages here, suggesting the filmmakers were desperately trying to fill up time.) But the real attention of the film is not so much on the returning moms this time around, but rather on the moms of the Bad Moms, who come home to visit for holiday.

Amy's mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski), is a domineering and controlling perfectionist, who often comes across as a Martha Stewart from Hell, and is constantly criticizing Amy's lack of "Christmas Spirit". (Amy wants a small, quiet Christmas with her kids and new boyfriend, while Ruth wants to throw a lavish party where Kenny G is the live entertainment.) Kiki's mom is Sandy (Cheryl Hines), who is hopelessly clingy toward her daughter ever since her husband passed away, and is obsessive over being her daughter's best friend.  Finally, Carla's mom, Isis (Susan Sarandon), is a drunken layabout who shows up outside Carla's house being dropped off in a semi, and only turns up when she needs a place to hide or wants money.  Of the new moms introduced here, both Baranski and Sarandon get off a couple good lines, while Hines doesn't get enough screentime to make Sandy into an interesting or funny character.  Regardless, all three seem like a lost opportunity, as the movie never develops any of them beyond their one-note characteristics.  This is an obvious result of the rushed script that needed to be fleshed out more, but time did not allow.

The movie is supposed to be about how the original Bad Moms work out their issues with their own mothers, and how ultimately everybody comes together as a family, but it just doesn't have the natural flow, humor and smart observations of the first.  This feels from beginning to end like something that was forced upon the filmmakers and actors, rather than something they genuinely wanted to make.  I think if the film had a longer development period, the script could have been hammered out enough for it to work.  Maybe it wouldn't have been as good as the first, but this feels like such a disappointment, because it was so clearly rushed.  All that mattered was getting it out by a certain date.  You can see potentially funny ideas or moments throughout, but because the screenplay did not get the attention it deserved, pretty much every moment falls flat.

Next weekend, we are getting Daddy's Home 2, which, judging by the trailers, features the exact same plot as this movie. (The dads of the dads from the first movie come home for Christmas, chaos and eventual bonding ensues, etc.) Time will tell if it ends up being as much of a rush job as A Bad Moms Christmas.  At least it will have the luxury of the original being two years old, so hopefully the filmmakers were not under such a strict time schedule.


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