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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



A Bad Moms Christmas, review: Santa is a stripper

A Bad Moms Christmas, review: Santa is a stripper

They don’t bother giving any back-stories, and none are needed in this sequel to the 2016 outing. Christmas and Bad Mom specialists (Bad Dads is coming) Jon Lucas and Scott Moore team-up once again to debrief what Christmas and happiness is all about, and span it across three generations of American families. A Bad Moms Christmas peppers its script with a dozen stereo-types, and then proceeds to revel in ripping them apart, in the most irreverent approach. With all its shock value (swearing, obscenities, suggested sex) deleted or muted by the Indian Central Board of Film Certification, it remains a feel-good film that led you round the pitfalls, only to safely bring you home to serious fun.

A Bad Moms Christmas follows three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of Christmas. And they must do all of that while hosting and entertaining their own mothers, who range from an alcoholic gambler to an over-possessive Mama to a money-throwing, overly critical perfectionist. One of the Moms has a boyfriend, a divorcee father of one, besides two (three?) children of her own, from a divorced husband. Another, who works at a parlour where she waxes the genitalia of women (plus one special man) and has a fifteen year-old son who hasn’t yet grown-up, and the third, an introvert, prefers the quiet company of her husband. With a week to go for Christmas, enter the Moms.

All three Moms are scripted as women with issues or addictions. Moneybags has a domineering mother (she’s alive, though not shown) who has ruined her daughter’s live, and her way of making herself useful is to help bring happiness, even ‘forced’ happiness into her daughter’s life, like a grand Christmas party. The alcoholic gambler is just a vagabond who has not been able to come to grips with reality and lives off her daughter’s earnings. The third thinks nothing of sitting in their bedroom and watching her daughter having sex with her husband which leads her daughter to take her to a psychiatrist.

Writer-director duo Jon Lucas and Scott Moore pick up all elements of contemporary American society, more bad than good, and then shake and stir them. All the ingredients of a formulaic recipé are present, in varying proportions, except for pure evil, which, in the context of the theme, is rightly avoided. Sex, alcohol, gambling, stripping, divorced parents, snooty neighbours and work colleagues, theft, confidence tricks, mother and daughter needing joint psychiatric counselling, doting grandmas and one (solitary) doting grandpa, great bonding between three women, a mother and daughter’s dual-layered relationship of love and hate, an amply endowed stripper who yearns for true love, the generation gaps that are symbolised by the characters’ love for music and musicians as diverse as the original Russian Nutcracker, Kenny G and Beyoncé and am incredible midnight mass church rendezvous that serves it all on a platter.

Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Jupiter Ascending, Bad Moms) plays the ‘medium’ Mom, who will take everything up to a point, and break when pushed. She has a pretty, roundish face and it is well-contrasted with Christine Baranski (her mother)’s bony. It’s the meatiest role in the film, since the story is told in flashback from her point of view. Kristen Bell is the introverted, clammed-up Mom who comes out with the craziest statements, like saying “I like his eyes” while watching a male stripper action. You would never think she would drag her mom to a counsellor, and that is the punch. Effective, in a quiet kind of way. Kathryn Hahn (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Tomorrowland, Bad Moms) is the one who gets to reveal cleavage, mouth the raunchiest bits and handle (literally--and ogle at) a hunk’s private parts. And would you believe it? She is dying to have her wayward mother come and live with her. Brash, irreverent, she is the real ‘Bad’ mom, and plays it as such, with an extra sneer.

Thelma and Louise, Stepmom and Dead Man Walking star Susan Sarandon has such an expressive face and such deep eyes! Her mumble and lost looks go well with her zonked out character. Cheryl Hines (Waitress, Nine Lives, Son of Zorn) is the one who believes that proximity breeds love, and treats her grown-up daughter as a baby sister. Earns sympathy, as the remnant of a bygone era where joint families were common. At times artificially delineated, she carries the complex character competently.

As Mila’s boy-friend, Jay Hernandez (World Trade Center, Suicide Squad, Bad Moms) ads a quiet dignity, as does Peter Gallagher (American Beauty, Sex, Lies and Videotape) as the only GrandPa among the GrandMas, while Justin Hartley is comfortable showing his muscles, upper and lower, as Santa Claus in a strip club. Of the five children, Oona Lawrence, at 15, should consider trying grown-up roles. Hitherto confident, she is becoming condescending. Watch out for Wanda Sykes as the shrink; there’s a twist in the tale that, along with GrandPa’s short lecture, marks the two bedrocks of pontificating, done in hugely contrasting manners. It’s not easy to make out what was Kenny G doing there, except as a stretched insider joke, but if he can laugh at himself, we can enjoy the cameo, as such. Along the way, the film pays tribute to Las Vegas singer-entertainer, Wayne Newton, 75.

A Bad Moms Christmas lights up everything bright and shiny, weaves in carol singing and over the top decorations, and tries hard to make Christmas, a symbol of all things good, as contemporary and event as possible. By adding a host of off-colour jokes, a terrible pun on the name of the festival itself, having pre-teenagers use the f word time and again, Lucas and Moore might have wanted the pre-50 audiences to identify with the tropes. That premise and ploys pushing it along are debatable. Cinematography and editing is passable, decor overblown wherever a point is to be made.

The fare on offer is, overall, just serviceable and best enjoyed as a comedy.


Rating: ** ½ 



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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