Sometimes, only sometimes, Hollywood serves up exactly what its audiences asks for. Just last summer, many of us asked for “Bad Moms” breakout Kathryn Hahn to gain more recognition for her comedic chops. But not like this: Enter “A Bad Moms Christmas,” a fast-tracked, holiday-themed sequel to the surprise smash hit (nearly $185 million worldwide) that giddily plays up all the worst impulses of Hahn’s indelible character Carla, culminating with the Emmy nominee spouting off the year’s most eye-popping line: “It was almost like waxing the balls of the Dalai Lama.”
You want raunchy Kathryn Hahn, you’re gonna get it, care of a slapdash followup that has mostly forgotten what made the original so weirdly charming.
Set soon after the events of the original film, “A Bad Moms Christmas” follows the eponymous bad moms as they attempt to work through the most stressful time of the year — aka the holidays. That tough time’s made worse by the arrival of each woman’s own mother, all of whom come saddled with their own major issues. So: Are they bad moms, too? Could be!
While the primary joy of directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s original “Bad Moms” was seeing the wacky mix and mingle of stars Mila Kunis, Kirsten Bell, and Hahn unspool in increasingly deranged (and very entertaining ways), the structure of the sequel means that they’re mostly apart during their various dramas. Occasionally, they’ll be tossed back together for a short-lived adventure during which they complain about their current situations and then act out in true Bad Moms fashion. (Remember that grocery store scene from the first film? Just imagine it taking place in a mall during the holidays.) But the cheerless, choppy nature of “A Bad Moms Christmas” keeps each storyline feeling oddly singular, and it’s worse for it.
Lucas and Moore’s film opens with a dejected Amy (Kunis) sobbing in the middle of her messy home, telling us in voiceover that she’s managed to ruin both the holiday and her family. Like its predecessor, “A Bad Moms Christmas” labors to blend out-there raunchiness with deeply-felt emotion, and while a wild ride is surely in store to explain away Amy’s ruination, it comes with a familiar ring of truth. The moms face problems rooted in reality, from the pressures of delivering the perfect holiday to battling with their own parents over how to best raise a family, but Lucas and Moore’s go-for-broke attitude keeps most of the emotion at bay (until an honestly tear-jerking final act confrontation, but enough about the tears).
At least their actresses are up for it, though, with Hahn infusing the foul-mouthed, inappropriately-dressed, and entirely nutty Carla with more energy than nearly any other comedic performer has conjured this year (her only reasonable competition: Tiffany Haddish in “Girls Trip”). If Hahn was the breakout of “Bad Moms,” she’s bested here only by Christine Baranski as Amy’s militant mother Ruth, a woman so committed to delivering entirely over-the-top holiday experiences that the hiring of Kenny G for a private performance is considered one of the more cheap seasonal expenditures. Any time Hahn or Baranski is on screen, “A Bad Moms Christmas” crackles with unhinged energy, but the vignette-styled structure keeps those highlights mostly at bay.
While the unfiltered pleasures of Hahn’s performance in the first film were its best comedic assets, “A Bad Moms Christmas” appears to function in a world where those bits were the only things worth replicating in the sequel. “Bad Moms” may have leaned pretty hard on its R-rated material, but “A Bad Moms Christmas” uses it as a crutch, piling on expletives and out-there situations without considering the toll they take on the film’s emotion. At least Hahn gets away with the film’s raunchiest subplot (yes, the same one that involves that chilling Dalai Lama quote) and still manages to find some heart buried way, way down deep under the f-bombs, the penis jokes, and a visual gag that’s so tremendously uncalled for that it almost circles back around to being in good taste.
Still, “Bad Moms” made a strong case for more ladies-behaving-badly in comedy, and that tradition continues apace in the sequel. Each mom has their own unique problems and personalities, and the introduction of their respective mothers further expands out the possibilities that women can be just as wild as their male counterparts, even (especially?) in a film directed and written by the guys who created “The Hangover.” Ruth is relentlessly dedicated to perfection (and makes it clear that she thinks daughter Amy is, gasp, very bad at this whole mom thing), while Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines) is obsessed with her only child, and Carla’s only parent (Susan Sarandon) makes it clear where the hard-living, wise-cracking spa employee came from.
But what’s the line between bad behavior and a bad movie? Perhaps the final frontier of modern female-fronted comedy is lackluster offerings to match the male-driven fare of the same stripe, and at that, “A Bad Moms Christmas” certainly succeeds.
Despite the film’s resistance to tossing all its ladies together as often as possible (and, yes, the film’s male stars are mostly sidelined, perhaps all the better to inspire the upcoming “Bad Dads” spinoff), “A Bad Moms Christmas” is at its best when its various trios are finally pushed together in wacky circumstances. These comedic trios work, perhaps better than they should and well enough to make even a mostly flaccid followup still feel weirdly appropriate. It seems inevitable that there will be more “Bad Moms” films despite the throwaway feel of this outing, and “A Bad Moms Christmas” might be the worst movie to so transparently set up a sequel that nearly demands to be made as soon as possible (yes, it involves the Bad Grandmas). Now that would be a holiday treat worth celebrating.
“A Bad Moms Christmas” will open on Wednesday, November 1.