Of all the things that bug me about the princess fairy tales that Disney spoon-feeds to little girls, the lack of moms bugs me the most.
Belle, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Elsa and Anna – all motherless. The beautiful, complicated, tumultuous, breathtaking bond between moms and daughters goes completely unexplored in the stories that occupy such a huge chunk of girlhood, which is a shame. Such fertile territory, passed over time and again to make way for Prince Charming.
I assume that's why I cried during "A Bad Moms Christmas."
I didn't expect to cry. I didn't even expect to laugh, necessarily. I was a big fan of 2016's "Bad Moms," but a sequel? Set during the holidays? I had my doubts.
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My doubts have been laid to rest. It's very funny. It's also tender. And if the first one was a superhero fantasy in which good (good fun, anyway) triumphs over evil, "A Bad Moms Christmas," is a fairy tale in which the protagonists actually, finally have moms.
Moms played by Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines and Christine Baranski, no less.
The three are in town to celebrate Christmas with their daughters – Carla (Kathryn Hahn), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Amy (Mila Kunis) – and it's complicated.
Amy's mom is sort of a Martha Stewart-meets-Theresa May, determined to drag her family to a five-hour Russian "Nutcracker" and decorate her daughter's house just so.
Kiki's mom lacks boundaries. And hobbies. And any sort of identity outside of "mom to Kiki."
Carla's mom has a gambling problem and a habit of forgetting her grandson's name. She only comes around when she needs money.
Lesser actresses might let this setup devolve into stereotypical schlock, but this crew, I have to say, kind of makes it sing.
Five of them were in Chicago for interviews recently – Sarandon, Hines, Kunis, Bell and Hahn. All of them are moms in real life. Sarandon is a grandmother of two. (They call her Honey, she said, and showed me the necklace that says as much.) We talked about mothering on screen and off.
"Comedy is always about desperation," said Sarandon, who brought her puppy, Penny, to the interview. "It's people in desperate situations trying to cope in a funny way."
The movie is "fun and silly," Hines said, "and at the same time, it gives a voice to moms who are overworked and stressed out and really need to take a step back and remember that they're people first."
Kunis said directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore gave the original Bad Moms the green light to choose who would play their moms in the sequel.
"K-Bell's is the funny one," Kunis said. "K-Bell worked with one of her best friends."
"I did," Bell said. "I said, 'There's one woman who is, first of all, one of the best improvisers in the industry and, second, a dear friend.' I reached out to Cheryl and said, 'Would you ever play my mom? We can add a line about how you had me when you were 4 years old.' She said, 'Of course.' So we had that rapport going in."
(Bell is 37. Hines is 52.)
"I wrote such a love letter to Susan Sarandon," Hahn said. "I didn't expect her to say yes. Like, that was it? Susan (expletive) Sarandon? Her body of work is so bananas."
"I called Christine Baranski's agent," Kunis said.
I asked Sarandon and Hines if they remember, in real life, when they started to feel more like mothers than daughters.
"I'm the oldest of nine kids, and I mothered them, so I always felt like a mother more than a daughter," Sarandon said. "It took me years not to mother everybody I came into contact with, including my romantic partners."
Hines said her daughter, who's now 13, was 3 when it hit Hines that she was supposed to be in charge.
"She wanted to brush her own teeth, so I kept the bathroom door open just a crack to watch her," Hines said. "She takes her toothbrush and scrubs the tile on the wall to make it sound like she was brushing. It made me laugh so hard. And then, at the same time, I thought, 'Oh yeah. I'm her mom. I have to actually make her brush her teeth, or they're going to fall out."
For an outrageous comedy, "A Bad Moms Christmas" does a surprisingly good job of teasing out some of those tensions that are so central to motherhood: How do I lead the way when I'm a little lost myself? When do I back off and let them live their own lives? How much do I care what my neighbors think of my holiday decorations?
"One day I was at a My Gym, and I watched a mom handle a meltdown like a (expletive) superstar," Kunis said. "She didn't give a (expletive.) I thought, 'She's not embarrassed. I have nothing to worry about when my kid has a meltdown.' She has no idea she empowered me as a mom.
"I hope on a bigger, larger scale that's what this movie does for other moms," she continued. "I always take note of how other people react to their children in ways that I want to, and I think that empowers me to have zero guilt or shame. I hope this movie gives that to people."
I think it does.
I also think it will change the way you watch "This Is Us" from now on. At least the scenes with Justin Hartley. I'd say more, but this is a family newspaper.