Okay, so the movie opens with a montage of people being really depressed and frustrated by Christmas, and ends with an old lady putting her head in the oven. Welcome to Surviving Christmas. Out of all the movies to come out of the Ben Affleck dark ages, this may have been the strangest. Here’s the premise: An eccentric millionaire (Affleck) with no family, and whose girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison) just dumped him, is desperate to not spend Christmas alone. He goes back to his childhood home and pays the family currently living there a handsome sum to pretend to be his family for the holidays. As ridiculous as that sounds, there’s definitely potential for that idea to work on film. Here’s the weird part though – it actually does…for about twenty minutes.
The first ten minutes of this film are completely horrible. It’s over-acting. It’s cringe-worthy dialogue. It’s just plain awful. But when Affleck finally busts in on this family’s life, it actually turns into a wacky comedy that totally works. Affleck does a fantastic job at playing this annoying big kid who’s a complete asshole, and acting opposite James Gandolfini as the disgruntled dad was the perfect formula. Affleck forcing Gandolfini to wear a Santa hat is hilarious, I’m sorry. They do a scripted family dinner that is pretty funny, where Affleck’s character even hires an actor to play the grandfather he calls Doo-Dah (Bill Macy). The mom (Catherine O’Hara) is great in the role, and Affleck and Christina Applegate as the pissed off sister have some good banter. There’s even a sequence where Affleck bounces up and down the stairs, and one of them squeaks:
“That stair squeaked. You know what we used to call that squeaky stair? The squeaky stair!”
Come on! You can’t make that stuff up. That’s hysterical. Here’s the problem though: the movie commits one of the cardinal sins of movie making – it changes tone. Why? This should have been the movie! You got this irritating crazy person annoying the shit out of James Gandolfini, and it just escalates and escalates for ninety minutes. That’s the movie! They completely blow it though by turning it into a boring, heartwarming generic piece of crap. It’s so frustrating. There was a comedy classic in here, I’m telling you.
What’s makes this movie even worse though, and why it ultimately sits at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes is because they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They continue their boring predictable story, but also keep some of the zany elements, and those two together make for an unfunny snore-fest that is just awkward to sit through. There’s a photo-shoot scene with the mom that is just weird.
I kind of recommend seeing Surviving Christmas for the twenty minutes where it’s actually good, and also because of the “train wreck” factor. This feels like a scenario where the film was originally supposed to be what I wanted, but some studio jackass changed it to make it more holiday friendly This also should have leaned more R. Again, this could have been something brilliant, but it quickly becomes something you just want to survive.
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.