The grand holiday tradition happens on a yearly basis. You gather your friends and loved ones. You pop open a bottle of wine. You silence your phone, sit back, and hope that this year’s Christmas comedy is as good as the last. Let’s be real with one another. Frank. Honest. Not every Christmas comedy is a delight, nor good even. Sometimes, November / December rolls around and Santa decides to hand us a big fat lump of coal (I’m looking at you back-to-back Vince Vaughn, post-Wedding Crashers, disasters Fred Claus and Four Christmases!) We don’t understand why, or what we’ve done to be dubbed naughty, but naughty we are, all the same. And then, there are those movies that only make us desire to be naughty, the latest trend that seemed to begin with A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas back in 2011; these are films that revolve around Christmas, but have plots driven by drinking, drugs, sex, and a loose moral code that seems to question what Christmas is truly all about. These are not the good-natured Christmas comedies of the 90s and 2000s that were still zany Christmas stories, but essentially centered around families trying to make it work despite things going wrong.
Office Christmas Party is part of this new trend and a damn fine example of it. While not necessary, drinking will definitely enhance the experience—it sort of feels like you’re at the party with a beer (or spiked egg nog) in hand.
Office Christmas Party
Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Release Date: December 9, 2016
Nostalgia is a powerful thing and my own Christmas nostalgia summons fond memories of The Santa Clause, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, Toys (with the late great Robin Williams and LL Cool J, no less!), and Die Hard (the ultimate Christmas comedy!). No, A Christmas Story and Scrooged are not on my list: I think of these two as Debbie Downers, and they are not invited to my party, ever. New additions have included Harold & Kumar’s Christmas entry, The Night Before, and now Office Christmas Party.
OCP is the story of siblings, one an uptight, do-everything-as-should-be-done older sister (Jennifer Anniston) and the other, a screw-off, ne’er-do-well, life-of-the-party younger brother (TJ Miller) who inherit their father’s tech company and their differing philosophies on business management. Miller wants to keep employees happy however he can expecting that happy employees will do good things for his branch, while Anniston sees only business results and makes decisions with numerically-driven efficiency, not emotional resonance or consideration. As Interim CEO, she decides her brother’s branch is not cutting it and dictates that he must eliminate bonuses, fire 40% of his staff, and the final straw, cancel the office Christmas party.
But this would be a bummer, to understate things. So, an opportunity presents itself to bypass the requested layoffs, by drumming up new business with a $14 million account represented by the ubiquitous businessman Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance—perhaps the most ranged actor in the movie). Win the account and save the day, or so our hapless heroes Miller, Jason Bateman, and Olivia Munn set out to do. And when the standard business pitch fails to differentiate their tech companies from other, bigger, more reputable tech companies, they revert to another plan: what if we prove to this guy that we can party like some badasses?
This is Office Christmas Party: an office Christmas party, taken to new, unobtainable real-world levels, caught on camera. One-dimensional? Sure. Exactly what its marketing campaign promised it would be? Without a doubt: you get what you pay for with this film, and that’s OK. The hijinks are bigger, the party better, and the laughs aplenty. Not every film requires depth or complexity, not when it never promises to deliver either. In this instance, the film knows its audience and plays to them directly, rarely straying out of line, except to pursue a redemption tale of sibling reconciliation between the stereotypically opposite Miller and Anniston. From a modernist’s or feminist’s point of view, it might have been nice to cast the female as the goof-off and the male as the hard-ass, but Miller is the goof-off and Anniston proved she plays the hard-ass wonderfully in both Horrible Bosses films. They fit the roles prescribed, even if the roles conform to unfortunate archetypes.
For the sake of allowing you to enjoy each laugh, I will avoid further specifics and instead rely on my own experience trying to see the film to assuage your concerns.
Attempt One: Opening Weekend
Me: Let’s go see Office Christmas Party tonight!
Scrooge-friend One: How are the reviews?
Me: Who cares about the reviews? It looks hilarious and has a stellar ensemble cast!
Scrooge-friend One: I’m going to check Rotten Tomatoes.
Me: Screw the reviews, let’s see it!
Scrooge-friend One: OK.[Five minutes later]
Scrooge-friend One: The reviews aren’t very good; it’s only 55% on RT.
Interloper-friend: Comedies don’t always have good reviews; it’s really tough for them to have a high average because audiences have very different senses of humor.
Me: Exactly. Look up Beta House (a classic direct-to-video American Pie spinoff, if you’re curious). What are its reviews?
Scrooge-friend One: 55%.
Me: See! Beta House is hilarious! This movie is going to be hilarious! Let’s see it!
ALL: OK![Two hours later we were all tired and bailed because we’re what the kids call OLD now.]
Attempt Two: 10 Days Later
Me: Let’s go see Office Christmas Party tonight!
Scrooge-friend Two: Not, not really. I know you like movies that suck. I only like bad movies when they include aliens or explosions or Neesons. Ideally all three.
Me: This not bad, it’s hilarious.
Scrooge-friend Two: There are movies I’d actually like to see: [other movies, long list].
Me: I’ll buy you a drink.
Scrooge-friend Two: This makes me a terrible friend, I know. But I am prepared to live with that label, if it means I need not watch Office Christmas Party.
Me: Dude, I’ll buy you popcorn.
Scrooge-friend Two: You’ve shamed me into it. I am shamed. But I’ve eaten dinner and dessert. You can buy me a beer so I’m drunk enough to laugh [he has zero tolerance and is literally drunk two sips in].
The moral of this Christmas Story? Scrooge-friend Two thought it was hilarious, because it is. It’s a movie designed to make you laugh and its design is pretty spot on. Now go use my review as proof to your Scrooge-friends that you needn’t bribe them with food or drink to get them to see Office Christmas Party and enjoy.