Warning: This post contains spoilers for A Bad Moms Christmas.
A Bad Moms Christmas should have worked. It has a stellar cast, which includes Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon and Cheryl Hines on top of the original three stars; it has momentum — the first instalment hit cinemas only a year and a half ago; and ultimately, its feminist heart is in the right place. And yet, it doesn't.
Maybe that's because Bad Moms Christmas takes everything that was wrong with the original Bad Moms, and inflates it with holiday cheer.
The plot is fairly predictable: Fresh off their take-back-mumdom power trip, the Bad Moms decide to take back Christmas, that nightmare time of year for parents trying to make the holiday magical for their children, often at the expense of their own sanity. It's decided: Christmas will be chill this year. Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) celebrate their newfound freedom from holiday bondage by getting drunk in a food court, grinding on mall Santa, and stealing a tree from Lady Foot Locker.
And then, the conceit kicks in: Surprise! All their own mothers are showing up for Christmas this year. This is where the movie hits its first hurdle — in a film with the sole purpose of releasing mothers from stereotypical relationships and obligations, inserting three mothers who are basically walking, talking tropes of motherhood seems like an odd choice.
There's Ruth, "as in Ruth Bader Ginsberg" (Christine Baranski), Amy's overbearing and seemingly perfect mother whose approval she craves and can never obtain; Isis, "as in the terrorist organisation" (Susan Sarandon), Carla's rocker mum who was absent for most of her childhood, and barely knows her grandson's name; and Kiki's mum (Cheryl Hines), for whom boundaries means not directly climbing into bed with her daughter as she and her husband get it on. (Instead, she respectfully watches from the corner armchair.)
Shenanigans ensue — including a memorable appearance by Justin Hartley as a sexy stripper Santa who needs his balls waxed — and by the end, mothers and daughters realise that they have to stop putting so much pressure on each other. They can all be Bad Moms together!
The problem is that none of these characters feel like real people. Even at their lowest point, the Bad Moms are all fabulously gorgeous, as are their mothers. They all somehow live in a part of Chicago where there is no diversity. The children only make an appearance as comic relief, or as their parents' guilty conscience. And don't even get me started about the men. For all the talk of wanting their partners to help out or take initiative, not once do any of these women lay down the new world order for the men in their lives. The men in this movie do not parent. They are bystanders, happy to expound on how strong and impressive their wives are, but never lifting a finger to attempt an equal partnership. Maybe that's because ultimately, this is a movie about women written and directed by two men. (Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, of Hangover fame.)
What makes A Bad Moms Christmas even more frustrating is that, like Bad Moms, the premise is enticing. After decades of June Cleaver as the Madonna of pop culture motherhood, it's refreshing to acknowledge that good mothers come in all shapes, and don't all spend their days perfecting gourmet meals for their family. But Bad Moms doesn't exactly do that. Yes, these women are raunchy — they drink, curse, and objectify sexy Santas. But they're all fairly affluent (even Carla, who is supposed to be the struggling single mum, appears to be getting by pretty well as a masseuse). They're not subverting anything other than the most white upper-middle class expectations, and to be fair, they don't claim to. But if we're going to celebrate the complexity and diversity of modern motherhood, maybe the bar should be higher.
The label of "Bad Moms" implies that mums are doing something wrong by straying from unrealistic expectations. I would much rather watch a movie about Average Moms. Those are the real heroes.
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