A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

I never saw the original Bad Moms, though it's worth noting that the synopsis on Wikipedia makes it sound as though it has something resembling an actual plot, which already sets it above its holiday sequel.

Usually, when I say a movie is difficult to describe in terms of genre, it's a compliment. In most cases, I'm saying a movie transcends boundaries or exists in its own space. Sadly, that's not the case here. A Bad Moms Christmas is a mangled mess of tones, ideas, and tropes. It attempts to be three movies in one, and I'm not even referring to the three distinct storylines following three grown women and their mothers.

That would have been a far better approach - write one woman's story as a farce, the second's as a light comedy, and the third's as a grounded drama - then play with blending these tones when the characters come together. That could have been interesting.

Instead, they just kind of write each scene using one of three tones. If there's any logic driving these choices, I couldn't find it.

Coupled with the fact the movie is centered around three characters, each with a plot centered around three other characters, there's not much cohesive material here to build a story around. It winds up feeling like a series of disjointed sequences.

Here's where you'd hope I could at least say those sequences were effective on their own, that the comedy is at least funny and the drama is at least somewhat touching. For the most part, I can't even give you that. I kept a tally of the number of jokes that made me chuckle. By the end of the movie, I was at five, and that's generously counting an extended bit about Kenny G twice. To be fair, there are plenty of Christmas comedies unable to elicit even a single laugh, so it could be worse. But the writers clearly think having characters react to something surprising by saying "fuck" is comedy gold - that's the level of sophistication we're dealing with.

Right, let's talk plot, to the absurdly limited degree that's possible.

The three main characters are Amy, Kiki, and Carla. Their moms show up for Christmas and make their lives hell. Amy's mother is a control freak, Kiki's has less comprehension of boundaries than a house cat, and Carla's mother is a gambler who takes advantage of her daughter.

Of the three, Amy's plot seems the most significant. Her mother attempts to take over Christmas in order to make it bigger for Amy's kids. Her rationale is that Christmas is supposed to be big and that the scale somehow reflects a mother's love and value as a human being. And if you're wondering how the movie conveys all this, rest assured it is explicitly stated in dialogue: the "show don't tell" rule of writing holds no sway here.

They fight over this for most of the movie, then it culminates with Amy's mother throwing a massive party in Amy's house on Christmas Eve without permission. Amy throws everyone out, and the holiday decorations get demolished while she fights over them with her mom. Finally, infuriated by her mom's actions, she kicks her out of her life. This angers her kids, for some reason, and makes Amy feel awful.

If you're wondering why I described Kiki's mother as failing to respect boundaries and not Amy's, there's a scene where Kiki discovers her mother hiding in a dark corner of her bedroom while she's about to sleep with her husband. She drags her mother to therapy, but this is all played for laughs. Finally, Kiki's mom buys the house next door and plans to move in beside her daughter, who (understandably) freaks out.

Carla's mother is an unemployed gambler, a con-artist, and a horrible parent. Then again, a full 50% of that applies to Carla, as well (in fact, there's a scene where they bond while conning people out of canned goods outside a supermarket). The important part is, Carla is thrilled her mother's back in her life, and she wants a relationship with this woman.

Just... go with it, I guess.

None of the stuff above is a problem. The issue is that Carla's mom bolts when Carla gives her some cash for an unspecified business... thing... she's planning.

So, it's Christmas Eve, and all three grandmothers are ostracized from their daughters. They run into each other at a Christmas Mass and convince each other they've been horrible. This scene is as close to good as the movie gets. Honestly, if there were a good movie around it, this scene would have been good. It's the only scene where the comedy seems to come from character interaction, rather than being unrealistically foisted upon the set-up. It's also the only scene which attempts to be touching and funny at the same time.

None of it works, of course, because there's no believable emotional narrative to be paid off. These are points in character arcs that literally aren't in the movie - none of it's been earned. Likewise, the characterizations here aren't consistent with what we've seen, so the comedy falls flat. But you could rewrite the rest of the movie and have this one scene work as is: that is literally more than I can say for any other scene in this thing.

Anyway, now that they've seen the error of their ways, everyone reunites and saves Christmas. Then Carla's stripper boyfriend shows up. The end.

Aside from the plot, there's a truckload of filler. In the days before Christmas, the three titular moms get drunk in the mall, steal a fake tree from Footlocker, attend a class where they make gingerbread houses, and watch male strippers. Oh, they also complain about how moms are expected to do everything for their families at Christmas and get no time to themselves.

It's honestly as if the writers didn't read their own script.

But the movie feels like that all the time. If this movie is about anything, it's about consequences - the effects parenting decisions have on relationships and personalities. But this is constantly undermined by the movie's insistence on portraying consequence-free interactions. The moms steal a tree, and nothing happens. Carla and her mother rob shoppers outside a store, but cops don't get involved. Laws, rules, and ultimatums are crossed with abandon, and we're supposed to laugh. But we're suddenly supposed to take it seriously when characters act depressed?

The movie shifts the rules of its reality from scene to scene and expects the audience to stay engaged, but there's nothing to latch onto or believe in. They want their pontifications about motherhood to resonate, but don't realize they're creating a reality where moms clearly have an absurd amount of free time and freedom.

Likewise, the tone changes abruptly from farce to drama to light comedy without purpose or direction. It feels as if the directors were torn between the kind of movie they wanted to make and never made up their minds. Any of the three choices might have worked, but all three wind up destroying any hope the movie has of drawing you in. The movie destroys itself.

There are a few positive things I can say about this. The cast is certainly impressive - Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Susan Sarandon... there's no shortage of talent attached to this thing (though it's kind of disturbing how white this cast is - do better, Hollywood). And the actors do good work - it's the script and direction that fall flat, not them. I'd also add that there's nothing all that offensive or gross here. That's an absurdly low bar to clear, but it's one plenty of Christmas comedies trip over.

Needless to say, you should skip this boring and pointless film. Unless you loved the first installment and just want to spend more time with the characters, there's nothing of any value here.