Surviving Christmas rings in the yuletide yucks with an opening montage of miserable people beset by the anti-holiday spirit, including a man who throws a poorly wrapped present out the window and an old granny who puts her head, instead of dour-looking gingerbread man cookies, into the oven. Midway through this Ben Affleck-James Gandolfini faux-jolly fiasco, I began wondering if there was room for two in that old lady’s stove. Mike Mitchell’s grating comedy is a tribute to checkbook cheer, that warm and fuzzy feeling achieved from buying and buying and buying, and a fuzzy feel-good ending can’t change the fact that the film fundamentally advocates indulgent spending as the surest route to happiness. Drew (Affleck) is a shallow, obnoxious ad executive who wants to take his materialistic girlfriend to Fiji, but when he’s dumped and left alone for Christmas, he decides—in a setup so slapdash and contrived I thought scenes were missing—to return to his childhood home and give the new residents, Tom and Christine Valco (Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara, respectively), $250,000 to let him live with them and reenact his youthful holiday memories. The perpetually grinning Drew is unbearably selfish, rude and moronic, and his unreasonable demands on the Valcos—who are planning on separating come the new year, unbeknownst to their computer porn-obsessed son (Josh Zuckerman) and feisty daughter (Christina Applegate)—are routinely humiliating. But since the unrepentantly greedy family willingly continues to accept Drew’s payments, it’s nearly impossible to feel anything but contempt for every single one of these gluttonous creeps. Gags about incest, Sonny Bono’s fatal skiing accident, and Drew’s freakishly long, ahem, “candy cane” are emblematic of the film’s unimaginative sense of humor. However, what’s really off-putting is how the film chastises Drew (during the requisite third-act crisis) for mistakenly thinking he can purchase the past, yet allows the whorish Valco clan to have its Christmas cake and eat it too by accepting Drew as a surrogate member of the family while still keeping his money. Ho ho ho, merry avarice!
- Mike Mitchell
- Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia
- Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy, Jennifer Morrison, Udo Kier
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