“Moms don’t ENjoy … they GIVE joy.” A Bad Moms Christmas

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

A Bad Moms Christmas is the antithesis of Daddy’s Home 2. That doesn’t mean it’s much better, but at least it didn’t make me doubt my (already shaky) faith in humanity.

In full transparency, I didn’t see Bad Moms. I’m a wee bit tired of Hollywood’s reliance on the word “bad” in the titles of one-note “high concept” flicks these days – Bad Santa, Bad Words, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses (close enough), etc. I’m all for truth in advertising but the gimmick has grown old. “Look! We’ve put ‘bad’ in an overly simplistic title, and you will see ordinary, middle-class citizens sticking it to the system by doing crrrrrazzzzy things!” Consequently, I let the first Bad Moms pass by without observation or comment.

I’m thinking that was a mistake, not because this particular “bad” treatment is any better or worse than the others but because the cast is actually quite delightful: talented and smart comedians slumming in sub-par sitcom material and spinning gold from dross.

Back to my comparison to Daddy’s Home 2, the “narratives” are more or less the same.  Take a junky hit comedy, spin off a holiday sequel, mix in some A-list talent to play the lead characters’ parents, season with some improbable holiday slapstick, and under-develop an otherwise interesting concept, re: the tension between Baby Boomers and their children on what the “ideal” holiday celebration could and should be.

Blessedly, A Bad Moms Christmas jettisons Daddy’s Home 2‘s tone deaf misogyny and its out-of-touch sensibility around the economics of modern living. The cast led by Mila Kunis (That 70s Show), Kristen Bell (Frozen), and Kathryn Hahn (Tomorrowland) is insanely likable. When you add in a rogues’ gallery of starry actresses playing their mothers – Christine Baranski (The GoodWife), Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), and Susan Sarandon (Tammy), not to mention one “bad” papa Peter Gallagher (Burlesque) – you have a very enjoyable if not intellectually stimulating night at the movies.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Justin Hartley (This Is Us) as a beautiful (and very funny) dim bulb Santa stripper and Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad) as an admirably patient future son-in-law round out the talented cast.

Here’s the thing, though. I hope Hollywood – with all of its progressive liberal aspirations – someday finds a way to craft a film like this where women aren’t pitted against other women or generations aren’t pitted against other generations in some half-baked satirical broadside about the inability of human beings to coexist in a sensible fashion (and that doesn’t involve pratfalls and fart jokes).

Nonetheless, The cast here knows what they are in for, and they rise to the challenge with aplomb. Baranski, especially, deserves a Purple Heart, for taking the tired stereotype of the haranguing, overbearing Mama Rose and turning her into a sensitive portrayal of the insecurity that has plagued women (and mothers) for time immemorial in such a thick-headed patriarchal society. “Women don’t ENjoy. They GIVE joy,” she scolds her daughter (Kunis), a disappointment of a daughter who believes the perfect Christmas will be spent wearing pajamas all day and eating Chinese takeout. The line is written as a simplistic bromide from a control freak parent, but Baranski delivers it as a human being who believes deeply that this philosophy of contrived happiness at. all. costs. keeps societal wolves at bay. Baranski is truly a marvel in this film, simultaneously sitcom-silly while heartbreakingly authentic.

When the bad grandmoms are shipped off to Las Vegas at the film’s conclusion, I found myself (unlike my reaction to a similar final scene in Daddy’s Home 2) entertaining the notion that I might pay good money to see Bad GrandMoms in Sin City, because their story – that of women who have endured decades of foolishness yet still manage to find a laugh and a way to come out on top – is my idea of a night at the movies.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]


Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital).

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Kids behaving badly: Bad Words

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

I have soft spot in my soul for the naughty movie with a heart of gold.

The Holy Grails of such films for me are Bad Santa and Bridesmaids. And if I were plotting a trilogy, Jason Bateman’s first directorial effort Bad Words would be right there alongside them.

I freaking loved this movie.

Let me add that I am not a Jason Bateman fan. He reminds me of boys that weren’t very nice to me in junior high – all preppy swagger and snark. However, this film has made me turn 180 degrees on that assessment. He’s plenty snide in this flick, but I’m guessing that he too was one of the picked on, given the surety and sensitivity and sharpness with which he approaches this material.

The concept (one that can only make sense in the logic bubble that is Hollywood film-making) is that a 40-year-old proofreader (Bateman again) can enter the “Golden Quill” spelling bee competition via one loophole: anyone who has not completed school past the 8th grade is eligible. (It’s never explained how Bateman has a seemingly successful career yet never passed beyond middle school, but whatever.)

Bateman’s character Guy Trilby has some hidden agenda for why he is so hellbent to not only enter the bee at local and regional levels but to win at the national level. We learn bits and pieces through the course of the film as Trilby is trailed by a web journalist (and sometime paramour) – played brilliantly by nebbishy Kathryn Hahn (a near doppelganger for Saturday Night Live alum Ana Gasteyer) – who unearths aspects of his past as the film proceeds.

Bateman has cast his film to perfection, including the always wonderful Allison Janney as the spelling bee’s anal-retentive national director, Rachael Harris as a belligerent bee-parent, and Philip Baker Hall as a the Golden Quill’s paterfamilias.

The heart and soul of the film, though, comes in the form of newcomer Rohan Chand as Trilby’s 10-year-old sidekick/rival. Yes, the scenes of the 40-year-old and 10-year-old painting the town red are comically shocking but also wildly endearing. Say what you will about Bateman, but he telegraphs arrested development beautifully (no pun intended given that he starred on a TV show with the same name), with his boyish charm, elfin features, and boys-will-be-boys attitude. As a result, the friendship that blossoms between these two puckish naturals is a whimsical delight (rivaling what Billy Bob Thornton accomplished in the aforementioned Bad Santa).

I suppose, given the fact that I subjected myself to foolish pageantry like spelling bees and speech tournaments in my youth, I had a predilection to identify more with this film. But Batemen nailed the hothouse insanity of pitting 10-year-olds against 10-year-olds over something as innocuous as spelling words. Indeed, Bateman’s Trilby is cutthroat in his desire to take down any kid in his path (there were a few gags that made me squirm unnecessarily). However, trust me, kids do that to kids … what makes it ironic (and d*mn funny) is that we are now seeing a 40-year-old man engage in such juvenile shenanigans.

With this film, Bateman announces himself as a directorial presence. He displays a nuance that many directors never achieve – he walks a fine line between smart-aleck and empathy. And the results are utterly charming and blisteringly caustic. I will be first in the queue for his next effort.


Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Please check out this coverage from BroadwayWorld of upcoming book launch events. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound and Memory Lane both also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.