Films - A Bad Moms Christmas & Daddy's Home 2

With both films now out on DVD,  a pre-festive reminder of Marc Nash's views on BOTH A Bad Moms Christmas and Daddy’s Home 2...

It’s hard to know which is in a worse state, the American family or the Hollywood mainstream trying to service it. Two lamentable family films for Xmas, that you just couldn’t ever imagine a family across the generational divide settling down to watch together. In the dad’s movie, one of the daughters spends her whole time with her face glued to her phone, even when ten-pin bowling and that’s what you’re up against here, Hollywood. So what’s on offer for the adults then?

Well, two franchises that are already so played out after their originals, that both have opted to spread the generational family net wider. Both films bring in the grandparents in order to ensure that Xmas teeters on being ruined. Because these family grandees were awful parents, which is why we end up with fairly useless parents such as Will Ferrell and Mila Kunis’ characters. They’re failing to entertain their kids with memorable Christmases, because their own parents failed just the same when they were kids and who now are here in person (the majority of them uninvited) to screw it up even further. So far so ho hum rather than ho ho ho…

Bad Moms has almost no humour, relying instead on mothers and daughters trying to break out of rehashing the past. What scant laughs there are revolve around young kids hearing things they shouldn’t or supposedly saying the funniest things. Lamely. Daddy’s Home interestingly has opted for physical and visual humour rather than verbal, with Will Ferrell and his hapless Dad John Lithgow bearing the brunt of the stunts. It’s all a bit hackneyed and predictable, despite the scene with the collapsing christmas lights echoing the Do Long Bridge scene from “Apocalypse Now” and rather makes for a very episodic script, lurching from one pratfall to the next.

So much for humour to entertain us. We are returned to the relationships. Mel Gibson is a bad dad, both to Mark Wahlberg when he was growing up and now that he has turned up to lob an anarchist’s hand grenade into the Wahlberg’s and Ferrell’s staid blended family. Now if he Dennis Potter-like turned out to be the Devil, rather than just a tosspot of a responsibility-free father, then it might have made it interesting. But this is Middle America in Boise, Idaho we’re playing to, so that was never going to be an option. And Kunis’ mother, played with her usual ice-maiden frigidity by Christine Baranski (Leonard’s mum in “Big Bang Theory’, when she’s far more versatile than grinches, I remember her as the out-there acerbic lush opposite Cybill Shepherd in the eponymous “Cybill”), is far more alarming a role model than anything Mel Gibson’s dad is. She is loved by her grandkids because she buys them off with gifts; her idea of an advent calendar is an I-Phone behind one window, an X-Box behind the next. So when an exasperated Kunis finally throws her out the house on Christmas Eve, the kids rally to her cause because their love has been purchased. Yuck.

Potentially there’s a credible relationship between Kristin Bell and her mother who’s recently been bereaved and incrementally cramps her daughter’s personal space as she looks to restitch herself back into a loving relationship. But then it’s undermined pretty quickly by the mother (sorry I don’t actually recall any of these cardboard character’s names and Susan Sarandon is wasted as the third mother, a perpetual rock and roll groupie), making a crass claim that she has cancer to try and play on her daughter’s rejection of her moves to get closer. Other dumbness sees Kathryn Hahn’s son as so stupid, he doesn’t realise she regifts him last year’s Xmas present rewrapped; or that Hahn’s new love interest is a male stripper with a heart of gold who she meets on the waxing table and he chooses her from all the women available for some improbable reason beyond my ken; and finally that when Kunis’ dad is mansplaining to her how he puts up with her mother for all these years because at heart she’s a good person, this strikes you as the most sincere and empathic speech in the whole film, then you know the movie is in trouble. Feminist it ain’t. The three grandmothers end up in church sharing their experiences and becoming besties even though they have nothing in common apart from familial black balling and so they sail off together into the sunset to some exotic climes after they have all been reconciled and Christmas natch has been saved. And if you were in any doubt about the middle of the road nature of the film, Kenny G was hired to play Xmas by Baranski’s overweening, underachieving mother. Because that apparently is the definition of a perfect Xmas. What, doesn’t Kenny have a family to go to celebrate the birth of our saviour?

The last third of Daddy’s Home lurches from the sublime to the ridiculous. Men can’t express their feelings of course, so when Gibson is in hospital wired up to a heart monitor, pretty soon he and his son get into a stand up fight, only his true feelings underneath are transmitted and betrayed by the heart monitor readings. Cliched message but done in quite an inventive way, so yeah I gave that a mental tick. Then the family live act the nativity scene and the kids are drunk on egg nog, while the shepherds look more like they’re in ISIS, that scored an unintended snigger from me as well. But then they go and blow it with a horrendous scene singing “Feed The World” while in the cinema concession area with popcorn freely being thrown about, enough to make me and Sir Bobby G (Geldof not George) throw up in our mouths. The film veers all over the place for the last ten minutes, with about five false endings and new characters and plot lines and left me a gibbering wreck calling for Matron.

But why Marc, why cede four hours of your evidently precious life to dreck the halls with folly such as these just for a few cheap puns? Because I saw the originals in both franchises and they were decent movies. The Ferrell-Wahlberg comic chemistry was good because they were competitive dads at each other’s throats, which is far more credible than them bending over backwards being nice to each other as co-dads as here. And in Bad Moms the first, there was a sense of injustice and righteous anger in the women, as they burst through the barriers holding them back fulfilling the role of soccer moms, whereas here we see it ascribed to their own lousy mothers rather than the constraints of social expectations. But put Christmas into anything and there comes a whole checklist of things that have to appear and that inevitably defangs it at a stroke. Mel Gibson really should have channelled Dennis Potter’s devil...

Marc Nash is on Twitter as @21stCscribe.

His books are available from Amazon here.

Images - IMDb

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