I feel like going into a deep explanation of the premise behind Office Christmas Party would not only be a waste of time, but also a little insulting (though I once had someone legitimately, in all seriousness, ask me what Snakes on a Plane was about). You’ve probably seen the trailers and/or television spots. And, even if you haven’t, you’ve clearly read this far and have therefore heard the title of the film. So, there you go.
The movie is exactly what’s advertised. Well . . . mostly. And, for me, that was perfect – it was precisely what I wanted and needed. The last few films I watched in the theater, while of top quality, were extremely heavy. I craved something light, fluffy, and silly, and that’s what Office Christmas Party provides.
Jason Bateman plays Josh Parker, one of the higher ups at a tech company run by T.J. Miller’s Clay Vanstone and owned by Clay’s sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston). Clay and Josh throw their branch’s Christmas party against Carol’s wishes in an effort to win over a new, big-money client. Josh is the same character that Jason Bateman always plays, just with a different job. That probably sounds like an indictment of Bateman – or at least his seeming lack of range – but it’s really not. Even if he plays the same character in every movie he does, I don’t care, because he plays that guy better than anybody else would. And he’s entertaining in that role, every time out. So, I hope he keeps playing that character who always comes off as the straight man on the surface but somehow delivers about as many great lines as anyone else in his films.
Miller also plays a variation of his typical bumbling-oaf-with-a-heart-of-gold. But, again, that’s his shtick, and he does it perfectly. In fact, most of the cast play to their type. But that’s what we want from them. This movie isn’t shooting for any Academy Awards. It’s not pushing people (be it filmmakers or audiences) out of their comfort zones. This movie is designed to be square in the middle of everyone’s comfort zone. It works. (And it’s nice to see Olivia Munn taking a lead role in a comedy. Anyone who used to watch her on “Attack of the Show” knows she’s a natural and this is her wheelhouse.)
The movie, itself, entertained and amused me, pretty much the whole time. My only lament is that things get a little dire for our characters as we head into the third act. I would have preferred a straight laugh riot for the entire length of the movie, but that could just be me. It doesn’t go full-on drama, or anything, but conflict – both external and internal – is introduced for the principles in order to raise the stakes. I think the character arcs (yes, there are character arcs) could have been completed by going in other directions that didn’t involve slowing the momentum and briefly quashing the exuberant vibe of the film. It’s just kind of the easy way – the cheap heat method – of achieving that goal and I would have liked to have seen directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck work with their writing team to challenge themselves and find a less obvious, but slightly more satisfying, route to get there.
But we’re only talking ten of fifteen minutes of the movie, here. The rest is exactly what the marketing promises. And that leads me to an observation. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to more than two or three comedies in my life where the audience actually laughed and seemed to be having a great time. I only heard a few chuckles in my audience today. Most comedies are marketed appropriately. The audience should know what kind of humor to expect. Office Christmas Party is almost entirely character-based humor. It contains very little slapstick. There’s only a smattering of toilet humor. And there are virtually no traditional “jokes”. That is made clear in the aforementioned marketing. So, if that’s not your kind of humor or you don’t “get” it, why go to see the movie? Maybe they’re laughing on the inside? I honestly do that, sometimes. But I was noticing one guy who looked quite possibly like he had never laughed a single time in his entire life. And he didn’t laugh during the movie, either. And, now, at least some of these people will go tell their friends and family that the movie “sucked” and they shouldn’t see it. If you’ve decided before seeing the movie that you don’t like the movie, then you haven’t earned your opinion.
So, I liked Office Christmas Party. I loved the cast (including my “Saturday Night Live” favorite, Vanessa Bayer). I loved the simple premise (comedy is best when it’s simple). I liked the execution. And it provided me with a fun escape and a breather after a string of heavier films. Comedies rarely blow me away or make my Top Ten lists, and this movie doesn’t achieve either of those accomplishments. But I had a fun time, and that’s all I wanted.
And with that, folks . . . I’m almost there. The next movie will meet my goal of seeing 100 2016 wide-release movies in the theater. I’m going to do it. I wasn’t always sure, but it’s going to happen. And it’s going to happen with the biggest movie with which it could have happened. I’ll catch you with a #ThrowbackThursday, first. And then I’ll see you (late) on Thursday night for the big number 100!!!
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