By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

After the unexpected success of Bad Moms in 2016, a sequel was inevitable, but the way in which it has arrived so quickly (with the efficiency of a Saw follow-up) is, and despite numerous flaws, actually supplies some yuletide giggles.

Opening with Amy (Mila Kunis) surrounded by the destructive aftermath of a Christmas Eve party gone very wrong, we then flashback to the events that lead up to what occurred that night. Amy is stressed out about Christmas, a time that puts every mother under incredible pressure. Buying presents for everyone, decorating the house in a manner that is acceptable to the rest of the neighbourhood, and cooking an endless array of food for family and friends leaves her exhausted and depressed.

Being the first Christmas since her break-up with Mike (David Walton), Amy wants to keep things low-key, an idea supported by her teenage kids, Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony). Also straining to cope with the festivities is Kiki (Kristen Bell), who again seems to get minimal assistance from husband Kent (Lyle Brocato). Busy for different reasons is Carla (Kathryn Hahn), who is run off her feet at work by female clients that want smooth, hairless bodies for the holidays.

The mood changes when all three are visited by their mothers, each one displaying a distinct personality and sensibility. Amy’s mother (Christine Baranski) is an intimidating control freak, ready to belittle and criticise her daughter at any given moment. Her husband (Peter Gallagher) quietly follows two steps behind. She forever sees Amy’s new beau, Jessie (Jay Hernandez), as the help.

Kiki’s mother (Cherly Hines) on the other hand openly loves her daughter, but to a staggeringly uncomfortable degree. She has attached herself to Kiki since the death of her husband, but in a manner that recalls Jennifer Jason Leigh’s antics in Single White Female. Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon) is exactly what we would expect her to be; free-spirited, uninhibited, and reckless. She doesn’t even realise she has arrived on Carla’s doorstep at Christmas.

As the big day approaches, Amy, Kiki, and Carla must band together to not only rekindle the original joy of Christmas, but to also battle and confront their mothers who, in one way or another, are turning their lives into a living hell.

It must be said straight off that Bad Moms 2 (or Bad Moms Christmas if you see it in the U.S.) offers nothing new, playing out its predictable premise like an extended TV sitcom. Characters comfortably fall into expected stereotypes, and sappy life lessons are learned before we reach the end credits. There are mixed messages about the material nature of Christmas, but at least it doesn’t plumb the deplorable depths of holiday turkeys such as Jingle All The Way and Christmas With the Kranks.

Yet, in spite of its formulaic, cookie-cutter structure, and cartoon characters, Bad Moms 2 does, overall, put a smile on your face, and this is due to an unexpected factor. While Bad Moms (which I was not a fan of) revelled in crude humour and abundant, unfunny ad-libbing, Part Two comparatively shows a little restraint, and cuts the unscripted dialogue down to a minimum. While it does contain outrageous moments, they don’t seem as forced as the pointlessly vulgar behaviour displayed in the first film, and a more easy-going atmosphere allows the main trio to attain likeable personas, something that is much-needed in raunchy productions such as these.

Another reason for the more good-natured appeal this time around is the absence of Christina Applegate (who has a brief cameo), Jada Pinkett Smith, and Annie Mumolo, whose non-existent comic timing and cheap, lazily coarse ad-libbing were painful to endure.

The cast all seem happy to re-unite, and this familiarity is infectious, and like Ghostbusters II, sees everyone not going overboard to make an impression. Hahn once more delivers the funniest moments, but it does seem like more of a group effort this time. Some ad-libbing still creeps into proceedings, which is decidedly hit-and miss.

A definite boost comes from the casting of the three matriarchs. Baranski, who has played this kind of role since stealing scenes from Cybill Shepherd in the 90’s hit TV series Cybill, makes the most of her one-note character, who is unlikeable to the extreme. There is no balance whatsoever to this individual, so the climactic scenes between her and Amy doesn’t ring true at all. It also makes Amy’s kids’ defence of their grandmother disingenuous, as the only interaction we’ve seen between them is the teens getting a continuous stream of expensive gifts.

Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Life After Beth) also skilfully handles her over-the-top character, whose exploits threaten to cross over into outright creepy conduct. Hines’ benign approach largely counteracts her role’s obsessive disposition. It is always great to see Sarandon on screen, particularly when she’s as relaxed as she is here. In fact, she could be playing a twilight version of some of the roles she depicted in the 80’s and 90’s.

Justin Hartley (from the TV series This Is Us) is rather dull as a stripper who becomes Carla’s potential romantic interest, and a number of jokes connected to him seem to have been borrowed from the hilarious 1984 Tom Hanks comedy, Bachelor Party.

Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who helmed the original, keep things energetic and fast-paced most of the time, but falter badly during the final act when they decide to take the material seriously, and the audience are suddenly supposed to treat these caricatures like real human beings. This misjudged, prolonged sentiment causes the film to slow to a crawl. It also rather shamelessly sets things up for not only a Bad Moms 3, but a Bad Grans spin-off.

With Daddy’s Home 2 out soon, which seems to have almost the exact same scenario (but again has great casting, with Mel Gibson and John Lithgow as the parents), it appears as if both genders will be covered for the upcoming holiday season at cinemas. While far from a classic, Bad Moms 2 surprisingly provides some mildly entertaining fun, thankfully diverging a little from the obnoxious crudity (and undisciplined improvisation) that overwhelms so many Hollywood comedies today.

Rating: 3/5

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