Surviving Christmas

Cast:
Ben Affleck as Drew Latham
James Gandolfini as Tom Valco
Christina Applegate as Alicia Valco
Catherine O’Hara as Christine Valco
Josh Zuckerman as Brian Valco
Bill Macy as Doo-Dah
Jennifer Morrison as Missy Vanglider

Critique:
Surviving Christmas is a mixed bag of movie, trying to decide if it is a romantic comedy-of-errors, a battle of wits, or a slapstick farce. It tries to do all of those things at once, bouncing around from setup to setup as it searches for a focus. That would be forgivable if the movie was at all funny, but it isn’t.

Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) is a successful and shallow marketing executive with no real connection to other human beings who, after his latest girlfriend leaves him on cusp of the Christmas holidays, loses his mind.

Shortly afterwards he finds himself on Tom (James Gandolfini) and Christine (Catherine O’Hara) Valco’s doorstep, now living in his childhood home, and offers to pay them an outrageous sum of money in order stay with them for the Christmas holidays. He then proceeds to simultaneously make their lives miserable and fix all of their inherent family problems, while dealing with his own problems and falling in love with their daughter, Alicia (Christina Applegate).

That twisty plot synopsis pin-points the film’s major flaw-it can never quite decide what type of film it wants to be. Setups-like an early possible feud between Drew and Tom-are created, built upon, and then dropped without resolution to make way for the next setup.

Drew gets shoved into the role of the wise fool, and Affleck gives it his Clark W. Griswold best, insane but likeable. If he had been more of a spectator to the events going on around him it would have worked; but as the main character Drew doesn’t exist. He is given no back-story or definition until the very end of the film, making it difficult to connect with him. Affleck and Gandolfini have good chemistry together, and O’Hara still has excellent timing and delivery, but none of it can make up for an uninspired script.

Individually, some of the moments are funny, or at least amusing, and there are genuine touches of with-particularly when Drew’s lawyer spells out in dry legalese exactly what he means by ‘Christmas Cheer’-but when smashed together to make room for the next gag, they loose their bite. Most of the jokes, however, are old and have been done better by other people.

Surviving Christmas switches personality without warning, trying to be all things to all people and ultimately being… nothing.

Summary:
Surviving Christmas is a mediocre ninety-minute sit-com. If you like average television sit-coms, you’ll like Surviving Christmas; but if you’re looking for wit and humor, stay away.

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