Office Christmas Party
Release Date: December 9th, 2016
Directed by: Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T. J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Randall Park, Rob Corddry, Karan Soni, Sam Richardson, Jamie Chung, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Chloe Wepper, and Fortune Feimster
This is the first movie review I've done by popular consensus. I had posted a survey asking readers to help me pick a movie for this week's spot since I found myself with an opening and I was uncertain which film to pick. La La Land won, but unfortunately I don't live in one of the "selected cities" where it was being released a week early, so I'll have to wait to see it (and sorry La La, but Rogue One is coming out next weekend). Office Christmas Party came in second, and in a way I was right to pick it: it came in at #2 at the box office this weekend (with Moana at #1 for the third weekend in a row).
Office Christmas Party tells the story of the Chicago branch of Zenotek, a Cisco-like tech company currently run by the founder's daughter, Carol Vanstone (Aniston). The movie follows Carol's brother and branch manager Clay (Miller) and his recently divorced Chief Technical Officer Josh Parker (Bateman), who along with head of tech Tracey (Munn) more or less run the company. The three of them are given an ultimatum by Carol: secure a partnership with backer Walter Davis (Vance) or the entire branch will be closed. After the three meet with Davis for a lunch meeting, Davis rejects their proposal, stating that he doesn't like the company's culture. So it's up to Josh, Tracey, and Clay to throw a huge Christmas party to impress Davis in the hopes of gaining his approval and to keep the branch open. Hilarity ensues.
I wasn't excited to see this, because it struck me as a dumb comedy that wouldn't be that funny. The trailers looked awful. To be honest, I was surprised a movie like this hadn't been made before. The "office Christmas party" is one of those clichéd corporate-America running jokes you're more likely to see on a Shoebox greeting card or TV commercial.
But to be honest, this movie surprised me, and not because I liked it but because I didn't hate it (if that makes sense?). It could have been my low expectations being met, but I think it had more to do with the charisma and star power this film packs. Just looking at the above list of actors and actresses who make an appearance shows you that they had a group of funny individuals who were probably having a blast filming this movie together. Stand-outs definitely include Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn as the necessary (but still funny) straight-man/woman and voices of reason, T.J. Miller as professional screw-up, and Jennifer Aniston as CEO and the most vindictive Queen B character I've seen her play. They act as the de facto leads in what tries to be an ensemble cast. Kate McKinnon, Karan Soni, Courtney B. Vance, and Sam Richardson are probably the closest the movie has to a "B" group of leads, along with Randall Park and Rob Corddry, but Corddry doesn't offer much other than "disgruntled employee" and Park doesn't get enough to work with other than a great line near the beginning and an incredibly awkward romance scene. McKinnon blurs the line between the A and B cast, and her bizarre Human Resources character has a slew of great moments.
The problem with many of the B and C-list characters isn't that they're not being shown enough, but that they aren't given enough to do when they're on screen. They each have their own subplots that have little to do with the overarching story, or a joke or comment that doesn't really pay off in the end. It's when they're all together alongside the leads that the ensemble pays off. One scene near the beginning that worked well included several characters in a board room answering the question "What's the worst part about getting on the Internet" that had some great responses. That's not to say that the other subplots or the actors themselves aren't funny. For the most part everyone brings their A-game. Stand-outs include Jillian Bell's stressed-out, puffy-vested pimp Trina and Da'Vine Joy Randolph's overprotective security guard Clara.
Yes, there are some funny moments, but the movie mostly strikes out. A lot of jokes fall flat or feel awkward. At times, Office Christmas Party can't decide if it wants to be a real party movie or a feel-good Christmas tale. The sex, drugs, and alcohol have their edges blunted by real attempts at sentimentality, as the movie perpetuates the myth that a corporate business with shareholders actually cares about its employees. It's a feel-good fantasy, to see the lengths that people like Miller and Bateman's characters work hard for their unappreciative staff, but it's just that: a fantasy, and one that may have been true for baby boomers, but comes off as unbelievable to the millennial audiences it caters to. Still, it's a nice thought.
The movie is juvenile to the point where even the sentimentality that develops throughout the movie feels underdeveloped and at odds with the film's initial tone. I don't hold that against the movie though, because that's something certain audiences really enjoy. I know my teenaged-self would have thought this movie was hysterical back in the day. Office Christmas Party is a dumb movie. It's goofy, with a great funny cast doing some funny, but not hilarious, stuff. It's not a masterpiece or an instant classic, but it brings together a lot of great comedians with an OK premise. Overall, if you're looking to go see something silly this holiday season, there are worse ways to spend your money. If you want to wait a year and rent it through Redbox or streaming, you'd be OK to do that. But chances are you'll forget all about it by then.
And Kate McKinnon is a national treasure.