In Bad Moms, Christina Applegate’s judgmental PTA leader Gwendolyn James played the foil to Amy (Mila Kunis) and her two friends, Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn). Gwendolyn’s relentless perfectionist was an inimical counterpoint to the central trio’s parental shortcomings, and it caused the friends to eventually embrace the fact that when held up to the loftiest of standards, all moms are essentially bad moms. With A Bad Moms Christmas, directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore bring Amy, Kiki, and Carla’s mothers into the fold to serve as pseudo-antagonists throughout a Christmas season of forced cheer and seemingly endless rituals. The lack of a unifying cause for the three women leaves them fighting individual family battles with their own mothers, who rarely rise above thinly conceived sketches. This too often limits Kunis, Bell, and Hahn’s time together on screen, thus squandering the chemistry between them that was the first film’s highlight.
As it bounces from one family to the next, A Bad Moms Christmas gradually devolves into a set of loosely connected vignettes, spreading itself thin and subsequently leaving most of the on-screen relationships feeling too undeveloped to carry much emotional heft. The almost complete absence of a narrative through line is less of an issue early in the film when Amy, Kiki, and Carla are flinging around one-liners that have a fresh, improvised flair to them. Hahn once again outshines her co-stars as the overtaxed spa worker, selling lines like “Since when did every woman in America need a completely hairless vagina on Christmas?” as if her job depended on it. Even the introduction of their three mothers initially adds some humorously awkward interactions to the story while also providing insight into the ways that Amy and her friends’ maternal anxieties and idiosyncrasies are tied to the dysfunctional relationships they have with their own mothers.
Among the newcomers to the cast, Christine Baranski is the clear standout as Amy’s wealthy, uptight, and hypercritical mother, Ruth. The older woman’s constant attempts to upstage her daughter by transforming Amy’s house from a mellow, casual holiday hangout into a winter wonderland against her daughter’s wishes makes for what is by far the most compelling of the film’s three mother-daughter conflicts. And Baranski’s deadpan expressions and subtle comic timing offer a welcome respite from otherwise broad characterizations and comedic strokes. Ruth’s perfectionist impulse to have the best decorations and give the most expensive gifts is an overused conceit in holiday-themed films, but A Bad Moms Christmas at least attempts to mine the deep insecurities that drive Ruth to demand perfection from herself and her daughter and still garner laughs while doing it.
On the other hand, both Kiki and Carla’s mothers, the overly clingy Sandy (Cheryl Hines) and the oft-absent, free-spirited Isis (Susan Sarandon), fare much poorer, never developing beyond the cartoonish logical extremes of their respective daughters. As the film’s second half leans progressively more on the mending of mother-daughter bonds and toward multiple syrupy reconciliations, the lack of weight and depth given to everyone besides Amy and Ruth begins taking its toll. A Bad Moms Christmas is most enjoyable when it relies on Hahn’s improvisational gifts and Baranski’s bone-dry wit or simply sticks to mindlessly inane scenarios like the women getting drunk at the mall and stealing the Christmas tree from Lady Foot Locker. But the pressures of Christmas prove too great to fight off and the need for feel-good holiday cheer inevitably veers the film toward half-hearted, sentimental drama that seems purely obligatory to its seasonal milieu.