Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini (TV’s The Sopranos) headline the DreamWorks comedy/romance, Surviving Christmas. Filmmakers create enjoyable yet formulaic comedy that balances situational jokes with dark comedy (e.g. a lady makes gingerbread men with frowns then puts her head in the stove) and off-color humor (e.g. a Sonny Bono skiing joke).
The opening Christmas time montage eventually leads to an increasingly crazy role-playing scheme where Drew Latham, a successful marketing executive played by Affleck. When Drew’s superficial girlfriend, Missy, played by Jennifer Morrison (TV’s House, Once Upon a Time) refuses his offer to go to Fiji, Drew desperately calls everyone he knows so he’s not alone for the holidays.
At the last-minute, Drew decides to pay a family $250,000 to stay with them for Christmas after a desperate encounter with a therapist, played by Stephen Root (Dodgeball, Office Space). Drew must then make peace with his past and learn that money can’t buy him happiness.
Drew’s background justifies his seemingly obnoxious behavior and Affleck’s performance does create some genuine moments and a little sympathy. Affleck especially shines in two sequences where he hands the family acting scripts
The disconnected Valco family has issues of their own as they discover how for they would go to achieve financial bliss. Gandolfini plays the dad, Tom, with hilarious dead pan deliveries as he attempts to rebuild the relationship with his wife Christine, played by Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone). Their son Brian, played by Josh Zuckerman, likes his computer…a lot, so his social skills suffer as he isolated himself from the family.
Galdofini doesn’t get a lot of dialogue, but says volumes with his body language and expressions. Tom’s self-centered attitude compounds the increasingly distant chemistry with Christine until they both make purchases that rekindle familiar memories thanks to Drew’s well-timed financial boost.
Christina Applegate appears as daughter Alicia who becomes a challenging new love interest for Drew. Their relationship blooms quickly (a little too quickly) and leads to a touching moment where Drew recreates Alicia’s best childhood moment. The comedy balances out well throughout the story as Drew starts to concentrate less on his happiness and instead seeks to improve the lives of each family member like having them hold hands when saying grace at the dinner table.
By the end, Drew’s quick fix, problem solving gets a little sappy and unrealistic, but still matches his personality. “You’re willing to give your family away when I’ll do anything for it,” says Drew as finds his true self and his romantic feelings for Alicia after a chaotic and funny climax on Christmas Eve. Director Betty Thomas (Doctor Dolittle, Private Parts) handles co-producing duties while Mike Mitchell (Deuce Bigalo: Male Gigalo, TV’s Greg the Bunny) directs.
This movie covers several familiar holiday elements that the audience can easily identify with including the hectic airport flight, family dinner, fun in the snow and Christmas carols, but the overall result underwhelms. Surviving Christmas (*1/2 out of four stars) was filmed in California and Chicago, Illinois and is rated PG-13 for language, sexual content and a drug reference.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler