It’s November, and unless you’re Costa Coffee, you’re probably deaf to the distant bells that self-importantly sound the start of the festive season. So why, I wonder to myself as I am crammed into a packed screening at a Leicester Square cinema, is A Bad Moms Christmas so popular? Could it be that the film has struck a chord, or does it simply testify to our collective yearning for the festive baggage of the holidays? Whatever the reasons for its special place in the market, the Christmas comedy is a staple feature of the yuletide. And, just as the existence of such releases are as predictable as the John Lewis Christmas ads, so too is ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ an entirely pedestrian affair – utterly unflinching in its mediocrity.
The first Act of this sequel, which sees Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles, brazenly confirms the implied chauvinism of its title. Kunis’ character, in a flash-forward to an apocalyptic Christmas party, laments her mothering before the film montages its way through what feels like a Top-10 list of sexist Christmas clichés. She goes about her festive feminine business: buying gifts, preparing food, wrapping presents, greeting her hard-working husband as he returns from work – every inch the model domestic goddess. She, like the rest of the characters, has simply accepted the expectation that it is a woman’s job to engineer the perfect Christmas for her family. But the applecart is overturned when each of the three moms is visited by their own mother – an inciting incident so unoriginal that it is shared in type with another Christmas release this year: Daddy’s Home 2. Apologists will undoubtedly jump to the defence that it is the older, uber-critical matriarch (played competently by Chrisitine Baranski) who represents such medieval expectations, whereas Kunis attempts to overthrow these attitudes. But the premise demands that the two leading women tussle over who can deliver the better Christmas; each simply wants it to be more lavish and hyperbolic than the other, while the men sit quietly in the corner. When the mothers inevitably reach the epiphanic moment to challenge their gender roles, the film simply descends into further baseless stereotypes in scenes of them drinking, smoking, and writhing sexually in Santa’s grotto. Passive housewife or bumbling drunk, there is no in between. To even get on board with A Bad Moms Christmas then, one must first reluctantly tolerate the low-key sexism which is rampant in the film.
Once this initial misogynist shock is overcome, however, it is possible to start mildly chuckling at some of the numb situational comedy that follows, though certainly not all of it hits the mark. The sexual humour is obnoxious and entirely unfunny – Hahn’s character meets her male-stripper love interest while waxing him intimately at the salon – but just about bearable. And there are some scenes which have a genuine comedic charm to them, as when the abrasive grandmothers discuss their personal lives; or when the overbearing Cheryl Hines attends family counselling with her daughter. Much of the writing is lazy and much of the story lacking in creativity, but the majority of A Bad Moms Christmas is harmless nonsense. It goes through the motions obligingly, and rumbles its way to a drawn-out conclusion which will satisfy the casual Christmas viewer. It even manages to redeem itself somewhat in its denouement, which rather bluntly shoe-horns in a (sort of?) moral to finish on an emotionally-forced, if not sufficiently festive note.
A Bad Moms Christmas provokes a couple of laughs in the course of delivering its cack-handed brand of comedy, and fulfils its generic purpose moderately well. So unless you’re understandably appalled by gender stereotypes or hearing Christmas songs this side of Guy Fawkes Night, it’s a largely inoffensive stocking-filler.