Director: Josh Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon and Jennifer Aniston
Release Date: Dec 7
In an early montage sequence, TJ Miller’s Clay and Jason Bateman’s Josh are spit-balling ideas for their epic Christmas party. Reindeer, celebrities, ice sculptures and booze are all suggested and immediately approved. The idea here is excess = success.
It’s a strategy reflected in the film itself, with a ton of diverse, wacky things happening at a breakneck speed. Some of it lands, some of it doesn’t, and for better or worse, it’s all quite messy.
The plot is bare-bones, straight-forward and predictable. Clay is the manager of a failing office branch. His one chance to save everyone’s jobs rests on a wealthy client, who he hopes to impress at the office Christmas party. Cue sex, hip hop, drugs and one very pissed off CEO sister in the guise of Jennifer Aniston.
With the words ‘OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY’ printed in bold letters and circled in red marker, the writers clearly saw their job as more than half done. It’s a film where nothing much happens except for a series of gags, all of which don’t equal the sum of their parts.
Some individual scenes are worth a giggle, but it feels less like stand-up’s Greatest Hits and more like a standard episode of an already average comedy sketch show.
With all of the generic party scenes and crude banter, a central character is never really established. Jason Bateman attempts to inhabit that role with his now standard ‘straight man among crazies’, but his bland romance with co-worker Tracey (Munn) is far too mundane to invest in. They attempt to spice things up with a dance number in inflatable sumo suits (because it’s funny, that’s why!), but it just falls flat.
They are supposed to be our sensible avatars through all this egg-nog chugging insanity, but in the process, they become practically invisible.
The heart of the film actually lies in the relationship between side characters Clay and his sister Carol, played by Miller and Aniston respectively. One would hesitate to say their characters have ‘depth’, but they at least have two dimensions in a sea of one-dimensional caricatures.
Ironically, their best scenes bookend the titular party, which means the film’s namesake is the least engaging portion of the film.
Carol is a stone-cold bitch with soul shattering tendencies, embittered by the attention her rich parents showered on Clay. Her frosty attitude has been cultivated from years of being casually ignored. This is gleefully embodied in possibly the film’s funniest scene, when she performs a psychological checkmate against a small child.
Aniston is the perfect actress for a character as deliciously cruel as this. She breaks spirits in ways we wish we could on a Monday morning. Horrible Bosses and Cake saw her in similar roles, and she has proven, time and again, that she is effortlessly watchable with her acid-tongued wit.
Clay, on the flip side, is the embodiment of party-town, happy to drive his car into a river to avoid traffic lanes. In a novel twist, he is fully aware of his privilege (in every sense), and is both humbled and thankful for how far it has gotten him in life. He’s happily oblivious but importantly, never cruel.
The chaos he enables is simply his way of saying he cares, and this is said without a trace of irony.
Both Clay and Carol are reasonably well rounded characters, but they are rich tapestries compared to the very predictable supporting cast. Rob Corddy plays the sort of character you’d expect Rob Corddy to play, an obnoxious lech (though less obnoxious than usual, which is oddly disappointing).
There are two romantic sub-plots that end exactly as you’d expect, but they also manage to incorporate Jillian Bell as a bi-polar gate-crasher, which brings a little life to the party.
A notable highlight is Kate McKinnon, fresh off her last film, Ghostbusters, in which she also had a standout performance. While her character might be the most thinly written of all (uptight HR manager inevitably goes off the rails), her specific brand of oddball quirkiness is very difficult to dislike.
Reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s comic style, her wonderfully expressive features (eyebrows in particular) and attempts to make a heavy plaid jacket sexy are almost enough to elevate this film into more memorable territory.
Sadly, while there are some good elements at play here, the film as a whole doesn’t feels particularly cohesive. Like most parties, it’s inarguably fun at the time, as the good bits are all padded out with generally inoffensive filler.
You can predict the entire film before it even begins however, and it has nothing so bombastic or wild that you’ll remember it in years, or even days, to come.
Despite the marketing, this is just a standard Office Christmas Party.
Written by Stephen Hill