Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Content, Language and a brief Drug Reference
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
Written by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Jeffrey Ventimilia & Joshua Sternin
Starring: Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O’Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Jennifer Morrison, Udo Kier & Stephen Root
If you try to force anything, it usually winds up badly. Hence the main problem with SURVIVING CHRISTMAS. This lame holiday box-office bomb hasn’t gone on to make much of an impression in the decade following its release. This was also at the peak of Ben Affleck gaining his “bad actor who will do anything for a paycheck” reputation that he’s recently shaken off. SURVIVING CHRISTMAS doesn’t offer many good things to praise or much to write about at all, so this will be a rather short review on the basis of how predictable and stale the whole film is.
Drew Latham is a millionaire lacking in real friends and family. With the prospect of spending yet another holiday season by himself, Drew decides to rent a family for Christmas. The unlikely candidates are the Valcos, consisting of father, mother, teenage son, and adult daughter. They enter into a legally binding contract to fulfill every single one of Drew’s holiday needs for a hefty sum of money. This puts a lot of stress on an already troubled family and Drew acts like a total jackass. Sound hilarious yet? Wait, it gets wackier. When the Valcos’ adult daughter comes home to the find the ridiculous charade, Drew begins to fall for her. Bet you can’t guess where this is all going. The movie can’t either, because it has to throw in pieces of filler and sub-plots (that are even more far-fetched than the premise) to scrape by the obligatory 90 minute running time.
The most I can give SURVIVING CHRISTMAS is that it made me chuckle twice, but that’s about it. Even then, there wasn’t any full-on laughter happening and it was at the expense of these dumb characters. Every person in the movie is repugnant, especially Drew. We’re expected to laugh with, sympathize (at a certain point and onwards) with and ultimately care for this asshole who’s so superficial that he’s ripping a family apart during Christmas. The main premise might have made for a clever dark comedy that wasn’t trying to include a sappy romance and throw drama into the mix. Instead, the movie is just plain stupid and moves through the overly familiar motions at a sluggish pace.
A sign that the film you’re watching might be total crap comes when the whole story feels like it’s being driven by the soundtrack. This is the most obnoxious music I’ve heard in a movie for quite some time. Humor is subjective, so there may be a few people who like this film. Nothing against them, but this felt like it was a Lifetime original movie. Wait, that’s too good for it. This 2004 dud felt like a PG-13 version of an extended FULL HOUSE holiday special. All that was missing was a laugh track and it would have blended right into the uninspired blandness of forced sitcom garbage. I survived SURVIVING CHRISTMAS and I don’t intend to every sit through it again. Avoid this film in the same way that you would an expired fruitcake!