The House That Jack Built
Ultimately, it’s more of an inconsistent cry into the void than the conversation starter it could have been.
In a year at the movies that has included box office successes for the likes of “Girls Trip" and “Wonder Woman,” the suburban moms of “Bad Moms” add to that female-led power with their new comedy, “A Bad Moms Christmas.” After the success of 2016's "Bad Moms," which had mothers played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn cutting loose from domestic expectations and throwing wild parties in the process, we now get to see where these women came from with a look at their own mothers.
Christine Baranski joins the franchise as Kunis’ perfectionist mother; Cheryl Hines plays Bell’s mother who loves her daughter to the point of wearing pajamas with Bell’s face on them; Susan Sarandon is Hahn’s drifter mother, who appears out of the blue and asks for money, as she is known for. The craziness of Christmas, from the decorating to the gingerbread making to the sexy Santa dances, provides a backdrop for bonding moments for these mothers. RogerEbert.com participated in a press round table with Kunis, Bell, Hahn, Hines and Sarandon to talk about the raunchy comedy and what it means in the bigger picture of motherhood and women working behind and in front of the camera.
Sarandon related to the movie as a mother who became a grandmother, and saw the story through her relationship with her daughter, Eva Amurri. “We wrote a whole TV series based on my daughter’s tales,” she shared. “You would have thought that she was raised in a circus or a gypsy caravan."
Sarandon added: “Now that I am a grandmother, and I have a daughter who is a fabulous mother, I can enjoy … I understand now how much constant awareness you have when you’re a parent. They’re on your mind somewhere, even when they’re grown,” she says. “But when you’re a grandparent and you have two good parents taking care of your grandkid, you’re like, ‘Ahh, that’ll pass. She’s got a cold, she’s OK.’”
When it comes to the idea of preparing for Christmas as mothers, Kunis shared that she has not succumbed to the stresses that can suck the joy out of the holidays. When responding to how all-out she goes, Kunis responded: “As all out as I can while still having fun. I’ve never gotten in my three years of being a mom to the place of, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I feel pretty lucky.” She then mentioned one of her own large decorations: “I have a projector that I put at the front of my house, and I have lights that go across it in the shape of snowflakes.”
Bell shared her perspective on the holiday as a mother, with the message echoing in the film: “If you lower your expectations you might be happier. Give it a try. Like, my expectation is to have fun and go all out, but go all out not in a Pinterest way.” Bell shared one of her own holiday tactics: “I give my kids a ton of construction paper, we make everything in the sorts of Christmas themed colors, and I plaster it all over the walls. And then it looks amazing and homemade and it doesn’t need to be perfect in a picture, but it feels festive.”
The raunchy comedy of “A Bad Moms Christmas” includes more than just booze-driven debauchery at shopping malls or a cameo by Kenny G, as proven by a crowd-pleasing scene where Hahn's Carla has a meet-cute with a sweet hunk played by Justin Hartley. The scene happens during a deep waxing at her job and the two fall for each other quickly, playing up the innocence and the intimacy at the same time.
Hahn shared the story behind this scene, which didn’t come with much rehearsal: “We met each other that day. He had a towel on, we shook hands, and we just went to work.” She added: “And that was just another day at the office for this mother of two.”
When talking about motherhood, and the expectations typically brought upon men and women in parenting, Sarandon made a distinct point about one significance of gay marriage: “What’s really fabulous about especially gay marriage is that it re-defines ... it broke down the gender-designated jobs and said that it’s so much bigger than that.” She added: “So we’re really having to look at what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman in a much more generous way. In a much more interesting, creative way. There’s so many different kids of households. And all I know is that raising kids is a b*tch.”
Hines mentioned that her overbearing grandmother character Sandy has some directly connections to her real life mother, joking that “She will watch this movie and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with Sandy. She’ll think,‘that’s a great idea, the pajamas with your face on it.'” Hines added: “It’s kind of a joke in my family that my mom is kind of open about me being her favorite, because she is the type of person that if she’s next to me she’s got to be rubbing my shoulder. And you turn into your mother whether you want to or not.”
Regarding the horrors that women can face in the movie business, especially with the news of sexual harassment becoming a recurring headline, Sarandon offered her own two cents on what she has dealt with and experienced in the business. “Everybody has had some kind of a pass made at them. Even though I said no in a really stupid way, in the middle of Texas in a motel on location. The director didn’t push, but I think that happens in jobs all over the place.”
Sarandon also talked about the issue with regards to young actresses in the business, saying: “But what I think people aren’t talking about is the economic disparity that makes that situation problematic. If you are an actress who is also in the position to green light a project, to write a project, to direct a project, you have other options. When you’re a 20-year-old actress starting out, and this guy holds the key to the kingdom, even if you’re trying to get out of it you’re trying to think of a way not to humiliate him because he’d write you off.” The problem is widespread, she mentioned: “I think it’s true in Silicon Valley and it’s true everywhere, where the power is imbalanced. So what we have to do is say, 'How do we give women the chance to feel economically stable so that when they’re harassed at the department store by their boss, at the telephone company by their boss, how do they have the means to survive?'”
As for her own interactions with Harvey Weinstein, while she noted that she has been a part of projects that have been bought and dumped by the infamous producer, she didn’t have any first-hand information about harassment: “I saw him bully people, but not sexually.” In regards to the topic of more women coming forward about it, Sarandon noted: “I think what’s really amazing now is that the discourse has changed, the fact that people are coming forward and that this conversation is happening, makes it maybe a little bit more difficult for the next guy to think it’s gonna go by. Just like bullying was part of growing up, sexual harassment was part of being a woman.”
“A Bad Moms Christmas” offers a full cast of women but is distinctly the concoction of writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Although Kunis shared that she hasn’t done a comedy directed by a woman until her upcoming “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” she noted how the case of “A Bad Moms Christmas” is unique: “Jon and Scott is kind of like having a female director.”
Hahn added “They gave birth to this, they crowned this, and it’s about their amazing wives. They’re so in the DNA.” Of which Bell followed up with: “You can simultaneously agree in female equality and opportunity and allowing people who have earned their position to participate in their work.”
When it came to the women power behind the camera, Sarandon noted from her experience two generalizations: “When you have women producers, they’re used to facilitating.” She said, “I find that for the most part they want to solve the problem, they want to anticipate the problem, because that’s what we’re trained to do, help people finish their sentences. Often, in that particular job, I find that women excel more than guys.”
The other important part of filmmaking for so many funny women on the screen? A female editor. “But the difference between have an editor who is male edit you sometimes, they cut out all the pauses where what’s actually interesting is happening, where as a woman they might not be afraid of that pause. Or, trying to do a comedy with an editor who is not funny is impossible.”
Addressing the idea of women working in film, Hines said that “Sometimes women get a bad reputation for ‘they must be catty,’ or ‘if there’s that many women there must be some dynamic that goes on.’ Which I didn’t find the case at all to be with this, or any of the projects that I have done. There have been cuckoo birds, but of both sexes.” But when it came to the atmosphere of “A Bad Moms Christmas,” the vibes seemed to be as clear as they were welcoming. Hines described it as “a very fun, light-hearted place of ‘let’s go to set and have a fun time, enjoy each other and talk about on-camera or off-camera the horrors of motherhood and what’s funny about it.’”
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