A few nights ago, I watched A Bad Mom’s Christmas with my friends. This was only because we got to the theater too late to watch Thor: Ragnarok, but I didn’t ultimately end up regretting the experience. I’m a film student, so it’s often my instinct to look down on low-brow comedy as an art form, even if I enjoy it. However, I’ve always had respect for movies with mostly female casts that are shameless in their comic explorations of sex, friendship, and the struggles that come with being a woman.
This sub-genre of comedy hasn’t existed for long. We can probably trace it back to Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin in the classic 9 to 5. This movie is significant in that it’s a film that allows women to be funny in a non-romantic comedy context. In fact, the main storyline revolves around taking down a man who has power over the three women and abuses that power. It takes its themes from 2nd wave feminism, exploring sexual harassment in the workplace and the demeaning nature of “pink collar” jobs.
Bad Moms doesn’t have the same obvious feminist undertones, but there are some similarities to its forebearer. Both satirize the ridiculous expectations for women, whether in the office or at home. Both are about three women who are isolated and powerless alone because of these expectations, but through their friendships are able to gain strength. Bad Moms, however, explores mother-daughter relationships, which in many ways are more complex that boss-secretary. The main storyline involves a mother and daughter who both believe that their worth is derived from being perfect. Whether this perfection involves throwing a Christmas party or being a perfect mom, at its root it comes from pressure by society that a woman’s purpose is to make everyone else’s life “perfect” while ignoring her own needs.
There’s a scene in the movie when the three friends decide to not care about this ideal and do Christmas “their way,” which involves getting obscenely drunk at a mall and gyrating on Santa Claus, and I think that exemplifies the genre pretty well. We as a gender are still rebelling against the puritanical idea that women shouldn’t want to drink or have sex the way men do, and instead should be content shopping and wrapping presents at home for all of December. The main conflict of the story is between a mother who accepts these constraints and a daughter who refuses them.
Yes, the movie is formulaic, and probably the same basic plot as the first Bad Moms (I haven’t seen it), but it speaks to something deeper: our need as women to see parodied versions of our lives on screen. 9 to 5, Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, Clueless, et cetera all accomplish this purpose. Like these films, Bad Moms is absolutely ridiculous at parts, but that’s the point. The raunchy, over-the-top-ness of the comedy is what makes the viewer realize the insanity of the female condition. And seeing it in a theater reflected back to us makes it a little more bearable.