Movie Review: Office Christmas Party

office christmas party

Ah, Christmas! That time of the year when a completely silly, seasonal movie hits our cinema screens. This year it’s OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston (who were previously seen together in another Josh Gordon and Will Speck-directed film, THE SWITCH), and a host of comedians regularly seen on TV including Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon (GHOSTBUSTERS) and Randall Park (THE INTERVIEW), to name just a few.

The premise is not so unfamiliar for this type of fare: It’s coming up to Christmas and everyone at a Chicago high tech company is kicking back in cynical anticipation of the company’s very mundane “non-denominational holiday mixer” that evening. But Scrooge-like Carol Vanstone (Aniston) shows up that morning to throw a spanner in the works. She’s the interim CEO of her late father’s company and her good-time brother Clay (Miller) runs the Chicago branch. Carol says she’s going to lay off almost half the staff unless they close a big account by that night. Clay, company CTO Josh Parker (Bateman) and Josh’s second-in-command, Tracey Hughes (Munn), have an idea to throw the most epic office Christmas party ever and invite their lifeline prospect, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance, THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON), to the bash in hopes of getting him push his $14 million business their way, which will ultimately save the branch from Carol’s axe.

Very quickly, all the party supplies arrive including a snow-making machine, an ice sculpture that doubles as a phallic egg nog dispenser, an iron throne (à la GAME OF THRONES), two reindeer, an actor playing Jesus and a baby (playing baby Jesus, of course). With the free-flowing alcohol, some misplaced cocaine, an enterprising prostitute and social media, it doesn’t take too long before the party shifts into high gear. Carol returns to the office just as the party hits its frenetic peak but Clay and his co-workers may just have saved everyone’s jobs in the nick of time.

When I saw the trailer last week, I thought this movie was either going to be really good or really bad. It turns out it’s neither. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is not high art, by any means, and it probably won’t end up on anyone’s 10 Best Holiday Films list but it’s not horrible either. The script has plenty of plot holes and leaps of logic in it (don’t analyse it too closely and you’ll be fine), but the pacing holds throughout most of the film. (It does run out of steam in the closing act though.) With so many comedians on the set, you can be sure there were plenty of takes as they riffed off of each other, trying to come up with the funniest lines. They were successful for the most part as there were a fair number of laugh-out-loud moments. Unfortunately, there were also a number of jokes that didn’t quite hit the mark and a few dry gaps that went on way too long.

As far as the acting goes, Bateman does his usual “nice guy who is the voice of reason when everyone else is insane” shtick. He does that well but perhaps it’s time for him to take on a role where he plays a complete schmuck. For Aniston, she finally shows she can plays a character who is other than a version of Rachel Green and she does it surprisingly well here. Even so, I would have preferred to see someone like Melissa McCarthy (GHOSTBUSTERS; SPY; ST. VINCENT) or Lake Bell (MAN UP; NO ESCAPE) in that role. They can play the “uptight bitch” more convincingly than Aniston can. Each of the other comedians had their moments in the spotlight but no one will be talking about their performances, or this film for that matter, as they gather around in the office pantry in mid-January.

If you’re looking for a reasonable amount of mindless fun with a fair bit of raunchiness, you could do worse than this film. However, if you’re after something cerebral this holiday season, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is not for you.

Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 30:10.)

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