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Review: Office Christmas Party (2016)

Office Christmas Party (2016)

Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Premise: Just before Christmas, the CEO (Jennifer Aniston) of a technology firm threatens to close the Chicago branch unless they land an important account. In an effort to seal the deal and save the branch, the manager (T.J. Miller) throws a raucous holiday party.

What Works: The one-crazy-night scenario is a familiar cinematic trope and has been seen in a wide variety of films such as American Graffiti, Sixteen Candles, and Superbad. These movies are usually narratively thin coming-of-age stories in which the conceit is a framework to justify unusual stunts and set pieces. The better examples of these kinds of films usually involve characters who learn something about themselves in the process; for that reason, most of these movies are about young people on the cusp of adulthood. That’s one of the ways in which Office Christmas Party differentiates itself from other one-crazy-night pictures. Virtually the entire cast is over the age of thirty and Office Christmas Party has less in common with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist than it does with Old School. The joke is that the partiers are old enough to know better and the movie has a few great characters in it. Among them is a human resources director played by Kate McKinnon who tries to reign in the fun. Also notable are Randall Park as an office worker with an unusual fetish, Sam Richardson as another office worker who DJ’s the party, and Karan Soni as the emasculated IT director. Office Christmas Party also includes Jennifer Aniston as the shrewish CEO and Aniston gives the movie a suitable antagonist. Opposite of Aniston is T.J. Miller as the manager who is desperately trying to land the business deal that will save his branch. Miller is reliably goofy but he’s also appropriately dramatic and here the movie succeeds at putting something at stake. Whereas a lot of party movies are about having a good time, Office Christmas Party is about a group of people trying to save their jobs. That gives the movie a little more substance than it would otherwise have.

What Doesn’t: Office Christmas Party has several fundamental problems but its fatal flaw is that it just isn’t very funny. There is some coarse language but very little of it matches the vulgarity or creativity seen on the average episode of South Park. All of the jokes are obvious and none of the stunts are memorable. Coming in the aftermath of The Hangover trilogy, Dirty Grandpa, and even Deadpool, this film falls well below the bar for outrageous comedy. But even more disappointing is the failure of this movie to play up its central idea. Raucous holiday celebrations were a regular part of office cultures up until about thirty years ago when a combination of lawsuits, economic trends, and newfound cultural sensitivities reduced evenings of drunken debauchery to polite midafternoon snacks. The central appeal of Office Christmas Party is that it implies a rebellion against the cautious and controlled culture of the contemporary workplace but the film doesn’t really do that. There are plenty of drunken shenanigans going on but the movie doesn’t play on the recognizable ticks of the workplace in the way movies like Office Space did. And as the film continues it gets away from its own premise. Jennifer Aniston’s CEO character is the older, more responsible sister of T.J. Miller’s branch manager and the film turns from a workplace satire and into a family comedy. And as the movie drifts from its premise it gets more generic and less interesting. Office Christmas Party is also hampered by a forced romance between two colleagues played by Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn. Bateman and Munn are fine actors and have proven themselves elsewhere but this movie doesn’t use either of them very well and they don’t have much of a romantic spark.

Bottom Line: Office Christmas Party is a mediocre holiday comedy. It isn’t wild and crazy enough and it’s not especially funny. It has some great characters but the movie feels more like the special holiday episode of a television sitcom than a feature film.  

Episode: #627 (December 25, 2016)