Film Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

It does have Christine Baranski.
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Christine Baranski could entertain her way out of the proverbial paper bag, let alone out of the somewhat more limiting confines of a lackluster holiday comedy. It is the latter that she pulls off with style in A Bad Moms Christmas, and we in the audience are all the better for it.

Just about everything that is not Christine Baranski in this sequel to the 2016 comedy hit Bad Moms is unmemorable. Our titular trio of mothers, including the comparatively sane Amy (Mila Kunis), the naïve Kiki (Kristen Bell) and the rocker-chick who has chosen to disregard the fact that it is no longer the 1980s, Carla (Kathryn Hahn), is stressed out. Not only are they overwhelmed by the demands of a holiday that include “buying presents for everyone we’ve ever met,” decorating their houses to perfection, and making memories for their children in an effort to stave off debilitating parental guilt, they must contend with a Christmas curveball: the arrival of their mothers. These women include Amy’s impossible-to-please mother, Ruth (Baranski); Kiki’s stage-five-clinger mother, Cindy (Cheryl Hines), and Carla’s former-REO-Speedwagon-roadie mother, Isis (Susan Sarandon). Hijinks ensue, women behave kinda badly (but not too badly; they’re moms, after all), and the generations bond over the fact that all any of them want deep down is to be a good mother, darn it.

A Bad Moms Christmas does have its moments. Spa attendant Carla enjoys an amusingly ridiculous meet-cute with the embodiment of a straight woman’s fantasy, a firefighter stripper named Ty Swindle (Justin Hartley, of TV’s “This Is Us”). Ty shows up for a waxing and Carla melts as he with his “manly” smile refuses to flinch while she tears the hair from his nether regions. An appearance by Wanda Sykes as the therapist who counsels Kiki and her mom brings a much-needed jolt of energy to the proceedings, while the moment during a “moms-gone-bad-at-the-mall” montage when our ladies spike the free samples outside Williams Sonoma hits the sweet spot of suburban satire that elsewhere A Bad Moms Christmas fails to tap.

Because elsewhere, A Bad Moms Christmas is lowest-common-denominator stuff. It abounds in references to reproductive organs and processes that perhaps could have been funny if the jokes had done something with their “naughty” subjects, but in the end it seems the barest mention of sex alone is enough to pass for a quip. This logic seems akin to that which is adopted by people who curse in lieu of having something to say (which happens here, too). There’s also something strangely outdated about several of its gags, including a joke about Kenny G (who nonetheless gets the modern comedy treatment when he puts his instrument between his legs and rides it) and a bit where Ruth refuses to remember the name of Amy’s Hispanic boyfriend, Jessie (Jay Hernandez). In this last instance the movie and not the snobbish character it’s trying to skewer becomes vulnerable to charges of tone-deafness. The filmmakers neglect to give Jessie any role to speak of, leaving him no wisecracks of his own to offer. He is a mute presence on the sectional beside Amy, as well as the butt of a joke we’ve heard before.

In the end, A Bad Moms Christmas devolves into schmaltzy Hallmark fare. The explanation for Ruth’s bitchiness is pat, and Peter Gallagher, as Amy’s father and Ruth’s husband, must suffer the role of sentimental messenger. The film ends with a shot of the three grandmothers, although according to IMDb, writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (of the infinitely superior The Hangover) currently have a Bad Dads rather than a Bad Grandmas in the works. If it means Christine Baranski is free to spread her wings in projects more deserving of her, this is for the best.

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