Let’s face it, Christmas can be pretty depressing. It’s no wonder that a profusion of Christmas comedies, dramedies and raunch-coms have proliferated in recent years, a seemingly healthy response to the strained sentimentality of the season. For this to work, however, these films have to actually be funny. The filmmakers responsible for Office Christmas Party have either lost sight of that fact or never cared in the first place.
Party plays like some ungodly Frankenstein’s monster, an abortive aberration that feels like it was cobbled together in extreme haste from the pieces of dozens of sitcom Christmas episodes over the last 30 years. It’s almost as though someone developed a random comedy-script generator, input the word Christmas and let the algorithm take it from there. When I reviewed The Night Before last year, I went in with rock-bottom expectations and was rewarded with a pleasantly anarchic diversion. It may not have been a candidate for anyone’s best-of list, but at least didn’t leave me feeling like I would’ve had a better laugh drunkenly watching my brother’s futile attempts to get my nieces to put down their iPads. Office Christmas Party couldn’t even give me that much. If the filmmakers were aiming for verisimilitude, they succeeded, and the proceedings felt very much like my conception of an actual office Christmas party. I was bored enough I wanted to leave almost immediately, yet I stayed, strictly out of a sense of professional obligation.
My speculation regarding the sitcom pedigree of Party is apt. Some digging reveals that half of the six (!) credited writers behind this script have little experience beyond a few TV episodes, and those with more extensive backgrounds in writing for the big screen are responsible for some of the most reprehensible affronts to the medium to come about in recent years. When the screenwriters of Pixels and Bridget Jones’ Baby collaborate on a story that is then fleshed out by someone who penned exactly one episode of The Good Wife prior to landing this gig, there’s little chance of producing anything substantial, much less good. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck — whose curricula vitae include the 2007 Will Ferrell debacle Blades of Steel and a few episodes of the ill-conceived sitcom based on the cavemen from those car insurance ads — do less than nothing to elevate the material, delivering the thoroughly uninspired pseudo-comedic experience that their professional background would suggest.
If Gordon and Speck fail to realize any memorable sight gags or set pieces, their more egregious directorial shortcoming is in shamefully underutilizing the talent at their disposal. Jason Bateman languishes in the same straight-man role he’s been handed in practically everything since Arrested Development, and Jennifer Aniston is essentially playing a de-sexed version of her role in Horrible Bosses — meaning there is literally nothing left of interest about her one-note character. T.J. Miller (who clearly has the comedic chops to pull off his turn as a well-meaning man-child on the basis of his exemplary work in Deadpool and Silicon Valley) founders under the restrictions imposed by the script’s saccharinity and utter lack of comedic sensibilities.
So we have what no one asked for this Christmas: A purported comedy with no story to tell, no character development and no jokes to make up for its myriad inadequacies. The less said about the narrative the better, and only those actors I consider to be capable of more were singled out for criticism since the performances were uniformly weak across the board. And then we come to the central conceit of the film — the party itself. What was billed as a raucous bacchanal of perverse debauchery comes across as being tamer than most parties I attended in farm fields and cow pastures during high school. Whoever was ultimately responsible for the festive misconceptions on display here must not have been to an actual party since the ’80s, as everyone seems to have an unnatural predilection for cocaine and Bud Light. The moral of this story, I suppose, is everyone should be very bad for the remainder of the year in the hopes that Santa will put enough coal in our stockings, so they can then be used to inflict blunt force trauma on the people responsible for this dreck. Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.