this looks great. Dark comedies about the yuletide season
always find some sort of cache, and often turn out brilliantly.
(See Bad Santa or The Ref.) Throw in a bunch
of quirky, under-appreciated actors, direction from one
of the guys that worked on Greg
the Bunny and a screenplay full of savage little
asides like "I hate to drink a man's liquor when he so obviously
Okay, so some
people despise Ben Affleck on film, in tabloids or at political
conventions. But I stand by my belief that he plays arrogant
schmucks with a rare élan, especially when put into a comedy,
a younger version of Alec Baldwin. (Yep, he's stealing Baldwin's
What gets lost
in Surviving Christmas, however, is a willingness
to let the dark comedy run free. Instead, director Mike
Mitchell wants us to sympathize with Affleck's obnoxious
yuppie Drew Latham. When we finally get to the heart of
Drew's hurt, it's not only predictable but cloying. Face
it; we want the guy to get some sort of comeuppance, not
every dream come true.
movie wants some sort of mystery to Drew's behavior, it
forces the situation past the breaking point to have people
just accept whatever the guy wants. In a nutshell, he goes
to what he claims was his childhood home to perform a cleansing
ritual of letting go of his past hurts on Christmas. While
burning a small piece of paper, he gets clocked by a snow
shovel, wielded by the current owner, Tom Valco (James Gandolfini).
Maybe it's the
blow to the head, but when Drew awakens he decides that
the real best way to resolve his loneliness issues over
the holidays is to go back to that perfect moment in his
past when Christmas actually meant something. Except it's
Not in a "he's
conning these guys for fun" kind of way, not in a "the script
doesn't play fair" kind of way, but in a "hey, it just doesn't
add up in any way" kind of way.
character motivations get shoved into the third act, where
they come as cheap attempts at pathos instead of natural
moments. Even Drew's manic desire for the perfect Christmas
tree, carol, snowball fight, whatever, feels inconsistent.
Sometimes the family goes along begrudgingly; sometimes
they fight it. Never does it feel funny, no matter how much
Affleck rolls his eyes and grins insanely.
A couple of
scenes have potential. Counter to Affleck's performance
theory, they work when he underplays. In one, he provides
the family with a script for how he would like the Christmas
dynamic to work out. Annoyed that they have an adult daughter
(Christina Applegate), which doesn't fit into his preconceptions,
Drew relegates her to the role of Latina maid Consuela.
Any good will generated by that scene gets dropped as quickly
as the idea that he treats her like a maid.
course, she must actually be the love interest. They have
a cutesy scene where they get devastating colds for one
day, but nothing so bad that can't be cured by a cup
of tea, blankets and watching specials on the television.
By the next day, they're happily bounding about.
And yet director
Mitchell clearly has a sense of twisted comedy. There's
all those asides, so perfectly delivered. Keen casting keeps
giving hope, as vets like Bill Macy and Sy Richardson (from
Repo Man) show up. Even Tom Kenney makes a brief
appearance doing a bit of fussy schtick in the beginning
of the film. False promises all.
Ben, Ben, Ben. I had such hopes for you. And now, I have
yet another movie that I think just might be a cool action
figure and ends up being socks.