Monday, December 20, 2010

A Decade of Dreck #39: Surviving Christmas

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more information about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

Something quite sad happens as we grow older: Christmas goes from being the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to being a chore, an annual exercise in fulfilling obligations to family members and little more than an annoyance. Whereas we once bounded out of our beds to rouse our parents at the earliest possible hour and look upon the bounty Santa bestowed under our tree the night before, for many newly-formed adults Christmas becomes a hectic mess of spending all one's money on presents and having to book tickets to one's childhood home.

The latter situation is ripe for satire. The sad situation of Christmas gradually evolving from something genuinely magical to the death rattle of capitalism and the nuclear family could make for a great dark comedy. One can tell that 2004's Surviving Christmas wants to be this, but through a combined lack of competence, intelligence, and ice water in its veins comes up as little more than yet another notch in the headboard of the bed of some guy who only has sex with bad Christmas movies.

Repeat offender and Daredevil himself Ben Affleck shows the moviegoing public once again why his recent resurrection as auteur and Pretty Good Actor is a remarkable phenomenon through his performance here. Affleck plays Drew Latham, a Chicago advertising executive and a shining example of the old archetype Rich Asshole Who Learns The True Meaning of Christmas. After getting dumped by his girlfriend, Drew realizes he's destined to spend Christmas alone and to solve his problem, offers the family living in his childhood home (headed by James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara) a bunch of cash to let him stay in their house and pretend to be his family. It's weird and doesn't go anywhere.

Surviving Christmas thinks its darker and more subversive than it is. The idea of a rich guy paying somebody an exorbitant sum of money to let him call him "Dad" and go through the motions of a heartwarming family Christmas is something that could have dealt with in a far more creepy manner, but for those responsible for this, Ben Affleck mugging for the camera like an ass suffices for the time being.

There's a subplot in here about Gandolfini (whose post-Sopranos acting work has been underrated, check out In the Loop) and O'Hara's marriage falling apart. Would you believe that the presence of Affleck's outsider somehow brings them back together? That's the magic of Hollywood, folks! Nevermind the fact that they seem like generally miserable people and the only reason they shouldn't get a divorce is that it might force their wretchedness on other possible romantic partners. So I guess Affleck's presence was beneficial for the world in general.

There's a whole lot of third act shenannigans about mistaken identity and wacky fake grandfathers but what hurts the most throughout this whole debacle is Christina Applegate as Gandolfini and O'Hara's daughter visiting for the holiday. She walks through the door and basically utters the following line: "Hello, Ben Affleck. I am your Love Interest. I will at first be cold to you because you seem like a crazy and sad rich man trying to relive your childhood through my family but I will warm to you when you seem to be a genuine person in need of love. However, you will lose me when I discover some past offense via your ex-girlfriend though you will win me in the end and will probably spend the rest of your Christmases with my family which has become your family despite the strangeness and deception of your meeting."

If only Surviving Christmas had followed through on its promise of a dark Christmas movie for all those grown jaded from their youth's experience. There could be a tale about the loss of enthusiasm for the season in adulthood and the possible rebirth when one raises a family of their own, but instead we get the retread of the tired old "...and that's what Christmas is all about!" for the umpteenth time. No more, please.

Surviving Christmas is ranked #91 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 7% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.