There is something truly smart in the opening of “A Bad Moms Christmas,” the sequel to 2016’s “Bad Moms.” As Mila Kunis’ Amy explains it – Christmas is an incredibly hard time of the year to be a mom. There is a pressure to make everything perfect, to do everything in the right way. As this doesn’t really fit with the ethos Amy and her friends, Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) worked out in the first film (which, generally speaking, is about attempting to be more of a relaxed mother), we get the conflict that helps propel this second movie. This is made all the more difficult with the appearance of the moms’ moms – Christine Baranski as Ruth, Amy’s mom; Cheryl Hines as Sandy, Kiki’s mom; and Susan Sarandon as Isis, Carla’s mom.

My review of the first “Bad Moms” stated that while the movie was funny, it never seemed sure if it wanted to operate in our world or in a fantasy one. The returning writing/directing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have, for the most part, cleared that up with this film – “A Bad Moms Christmas” operates largely in our world. A slightly heightened version of our world, to be sure, but our world, and, that said, there is still some zany to be had (like drunkenly stealing a Christmas tree).

Some out there will, correctly, complain that “A Bad Moms Christmas” is a little light on plot. It is. The movie is telling a story that we’ve all seen before – the way one generation would organize a moment/celebration/holiday/weekend/whatever is not the same way another one would do it and so troubles build. In the film we see these generational spats as on-going things, neither beginning, nor ending with these two generations. Certainly, we see it with Amy’s kids and we hear of it in discussions of her grandmother as well.

The thing is though, as noted above, the “Bad Moms” thing works when translated to the notion of a holiday, particularly when the holiday is Christmas and for these suburban women, being a “bad mom” at Christmas means saying “no” to a five-hour version of the “Nutcracker,” worrying less about giving gifts to the entire universe, and not spending as much time decorating the house. Nobody is taking away the holiday here, just adjusting the way it’s presented within the house to the family.

This, it is true, makes the stakes lower than they otherwise would be, but again the moms are not really about being bad, they are much more about throwing off the shackles of modern suburban life and the expectations that come along with it. Those shackles remain off here.

One of the film’s better moments again belongs to Wanda Sykes, who appeared as Amy’s marriage counselor in the first film. Here, Kiki and Sandy go to see her as Sandy has a lack of boundaries. It is explained to Kiki, in a way that only Wanda Sykes can do, that the reason Sandy seems crazy is that slowly but surely through the years, and really by no fault of her own, Kiki made Sandy that way (by not sleeping when she was born, by throwing up her food when she was young, etc.). This explanation is both incredibly funny and seems to have more than a grain of truth for the world at large in it.

It is in these types of moments when “A Bad Moms Christmas” is at its best – offering humorous and honest insight into the world we inhabit and the relationships which form it. The Sykes scene is not the only time it occurs, there are genuinely considerate, concerned, conversations in the film.

Our three moms at the center are all wonderfully funny again this time out, although Hahn’s Carla feels somewhat more restrained. She is still, undoubtedly, the raunchiest member of the group (and operates in more of a fantasy world than anyone else), but she doesn’t steal the vast majority of the laughs this time  (but may still have the most).  Unquestionably, one of the funniest performances in the film is given by Peter Gallagher as Ruth’s husband/Amy’s father, Hank. For a significant portion of the film, he doesn’t talk all that much but rather offers up a myriad of facial expressions which make his opinions known.

It is, again, Amy who is the center of the show and Kunis is as engaging as ever. From depicting her relationship with Jessie (Jay Hernandez) to her role as a parent, to her struggles with the overbearing Ruth, she nails the various roles parents (moms, in particular) play in our world.

No, “A Bad Moms Christmas” may not be as funny as its predecessor, it may have some pacing issues, and it may be a little light on the plot, but there is still something amusing and enjoyable about the entire affair. One does wonder where the franchise, if indeed there is a franchise, will go from here. Are we to be treated with the moms updating various holidays? Will the next film focus on a child’s graduation? Will it be about Amy and Jessie getting married?

There is certainly a lot of humor to be mined from the concept and this film does offer a way forward.

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photo credit: STX Entertainment