Directed by: Seth Gordon
Premise: A hip, unmarried couple (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) travel to four family Christmas parties, one for each of their parents. Along the way, the two discover unexpected facts about each other that reveal tensions in their relationship.
What Works: Four Christmases is a more mature holiday film—at least for the first two thirds of the picture—in that it does not dwell on the sentimental and cliché holiday themes and situations, but rather deals with a contemporary problem faced by fractured and extended families. And in that way, Four Christmases mostly succeeds. The story builds nicely through the second act and each family encounter changes the dynamics of the couple’s relationship, giving it an arc. Vince Vaughn largely carries the film with his characteristically lucid humor.
What Doesn’t: Reese Witherspoon does not fare so well in the film. It’s not really her fault; the part is underwritten. She and Vaughn, as well as most of the supporting cast, play entirely selfish and self-absorbed fools. But Vaughn gets nearly all of the good lines and gags, leaving Witherspoon with little to do. As the couple reaches a crisis point, there is no tangible goal or experience to talk them down or transition them through it and lead to a reconciliation. The jokes and family dynamics of each Christmas party are largely recycled in each gathering so that by the third Christmas, the film feels as though it is revisiting previous scenarios.
Bottom Line: Four Christmases is not great either as a comedy or as a Christmas film but fans of Vaughn or Witherspoon may want to check it out.
Episode: #220 (December 28, 2008)