6.5 out of 10
Jason Bateman as Josh Parker
Directed by Will Speck & Josh Gordon
Office Christmas Party Review:
The Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle once noted that there are essentially two kinds of comics (and in a broader sense two kinds of comedy): the writers and the performers. The writers are able craft jokes so elegant and powerful that they will work almost no matter who tells them or how badly. They’re foolproof.
The performances, on the other hand, may not necessarily have the best material, but they can through their own natural charisma and talent make even the least funny material work. There is an awful lot of talent on display in Office Christmas Party.
Feuding siblings Clay (Miller) and Carol (Aniston) inherited their father’s IT company but share little else but resentment. An inveterate partier and goof-off, Clay would rather muse about how fast a car needs to be going to jump a draw bridge than paying attention to profit and loss statements. The long-simmering tension finally erupts on Christmas when a tough sales year gives Carol the excuse she’s been longing for to close Clay’s division down and force him out of the company.
It’s left to long-time family confident Josh (Bateman) to try and save everyone’s job by closing a last-minute deal with skeptical contractor (Vance) by showing him the time of his life at the world’s most awesome Christmas party. Mix in loud music, fire, inflatable snowman costumes, a bi-polar but surprisingly polite pimp and a snow blower filled with cocaine and the recipe is right for something unforgettable.
Or so we’re told. In reality, a lot of Party is pretty forgettable. A lot of it isn’t, but that’s not always to the film’s credit, making watching it frequently an exercise in frustration. Writing/directing team Speck and Gordon (The Switch) have come up with a solid premise to hang their action on and a few good routines but have very little to offer beyond that.
Like similar party films what plot it has primarily exists to get everyone into the places they need to be in order to get the chaos started. It’s not particularly involving or well executed, but it doesn’t really need to be either, it just needs to lay out the geography. But as quickly as Office Christmas Party reaches its peak, it loses its way giving up precious comedy real estate to focus on wrapping up the framing sequence. As the third act wears on, the party itself is left behind as Josh must discover where a wayward Clay has wandered off to.
The further we get from the party and the comedians at it, the clearer it becomes how much of the film they are carrying.
That said, there is a lot of talent available on screen and Party does give them a lot of leeway to carry the film. McKinnon as the uptight HR administrator is a particular scene stealer with her affinity for faces, voices and insane line delivery. Jillian Bell is, if anything, even better as an unbalanced pimp who shows up from time to time as part of a less interesting subplot about a nerdy co-worker (Soni) who hires a call girl (Kershaw) to pose as his imaginary girlfriend for the party. And Vanessa Byer gets one of the few pieces of inspired work from Speck and Gordon as her attempt to start an office romance at the party.
But a lot of the funniest co-stars like Miller and Corddry are left to make mountains out of molehills and frequently fleeting molehills to get out of the way of Bateman and Munn’s will they/won’t they drama.
The further Party gets away from itself, the more its seams show and the less funny it becomes. A lot of dedicated talents work overtime to hide that fact, but much of the hard work being put into its story-shell would have been better spent coming up with better gags.
It certainly has its moment and the gist of the idea is a solid one, but somewhere along the way the plot was lost in favor of… well, the plot. In seems counter-intuitive that the most expendable element in a story would be the story (or at least the plot).
But if nothing else, besides having a few solid sequences, Office Christmas Party does have a lot of skilled comedians trying their hardest to make what they’ve got work. It misses lot of possibilities that way, but there are more hits than misses if you can sit through mediocre family drama to get to them.