Office Christmas Party, 2016.
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck.
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Olivia Munn, Vanessa Bayer, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Rob Corddry, Abbey Lee, Kate McKinnon, Karan Soni, and Matt Walsh.
In OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, when the CEO (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close her hard-partying brother’s branch, he (T.J. Miller) and his Chief Technical Officer (Jason Bateman) must rally their co-workers and host an epic office Christmas party in an effort to impress a potential client and close a sale that will save their jobs.
Hollywood’s infatuation with the Christmas movie dissipated years back. Long are the days of angelic Cary Grant descending upon the life of embittered David Niven or Michael Caine finding hope in felt puppets. In place, new-found cynicism drowns. That joyous Christmas spirit, drunk on a glass too many of sherry as they sing carols from rooftops is now a drunkard, ranting about how to call it Christmas would be to offend the PC police. The latest mainstream Christmas flick, Office Christmas Party is neither, in fact, it seems to forget its holiday theme early on, itself, like its characters, swaying drunk through set-pieces framed by awkward plotting.
With the looming threat of closure as a result of CEO and sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), branch manger Clay (T.J. Miller) and Chief Technical Officer Josh (Jason Bateman) decide to throw a Christmas party in order to land an account worth $14 million thus saving the jobs of all. Interconnected, Nate (Karan Soni) employs a prostitute (Abbey Lee) to moonlight as his girlfriend and Tracey (Olivia Munn) – in the midst of a will they won’t they with Josh-develops a piece of tech that might save the company. All this and a series of loose, messy strands that only ever distract.
And it’s in the film’s yearn for a cohesive narrative that undermines most. It’s not a film that demands a complex web of plotting, yet directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck needlessly weave storylines around the debauchery.Those running threads: needless discussions about relationships, the intricacies of big business, umpteen “lightbulb” moments, intrude when to play it simple would signal something all the more successful.
That over-lying paradigm/epidemic of comedy as a forum to improvise only succeeds when actors have a grasp of timing. Thankfully, the cast, a who’s who of the uber-talented from SNL’s Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer, to T.J. Miller and mainstream comedy cohort Jason Bateman, all understand where and how comedy succeeds. McKinnon and Miller have long been scene stealers and both continue but it’s on Bayer and Randall Park, two comics seemingly always on the edge of stardom, who succeed most, bouncing off one another and finding a rhythm amidst the chaos.
It’s a strange, in being, by all accounts, a Christmas film, it becomes increasingly saccharin as it comes to a close. That charming cynicism, the drunken anarchy of it all evolves into a needless foil for underlying melancholy. Its clear successes all abandon the narrative, choosing instead to simply revel in drunken debauchery, it’s a shame then that for every strong joke (of which there are a fair amount), there’s a further two baffling narrative strange.
Office Christmas Party won’t have the staying power of other Christmas comedies, but nor will it find itself in the trough occupied by holiday flicks gone before such as Fred Claus. If given a good edit and lean re-write, there wouldn’t be as much need to place emphasis on its lame plotting. A great shame then, that when not distracted, it’s got a rather impressive joke hit-rate.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★