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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

Movie review: Surviving Christmas *

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If ever there were any questions about Ben Affleck's acting skills, Surviving Christmas puts them to rest.

He doesn't have any.

Stiff and awkward, he steamrolls his way through this would-be satire of the faux cheer and excessive spending that surround the holiday of the title.

Surviving Christmas starts out with a little old lady decorating her gingerbread-boy cookies with frowns, then sticking her head in a gas oven.

It goes downhill from there.

Affleck plays Drew Latham, a marketing genius (his latest is prespiked eggnog) whose girlfriend breaks up with him right before Christmas, claiming that until he understands that Christmas is for families, he's doomed to a life of loneliness. (This was precipitated by his buying them tickets to Fiji for the holidays. The guy sitting next to me said, "Forget the girl, go to Fiji.")

Stung, Drew decides to revisit his childhood home, where he finds the Valco family: Tom (James Gandolfini), Christine (Catherine O'Hara), and son Brian (Josh Zuckerman). Drew decides they offer the perfect opportunity to give him the family Christmas of his dreams, so he rents them for the holidays.

(The fact that he offers them a quarter of a million dollars and they take it makes this one of the more plausible elements of the film.)

But all is not perfect in the Valco world. Tom, a bear of a man who glowers and yells, and Christine, his frowzy wife who long ago gave up on herself, are on the verge of divorce, and Brian spends all his time in his room, checking porn Web sites.

Throwing another monkey wrench into Drew's idyllic scene is Alicia (Christina Applegate), the Valco daughter who arrives home for the holidays and wants the intruder out. Now.

Admittedly, there are a few funny moments in the film, but there are setups for quite a few more, and they just fell flat, thanks to characters that are hard to like. When the most sympathetic soul in the film is the teenage boy who downloads smut, you know there's a problem.

The "Surviving" part of the Surviving Christmas title has more to do with making it to the end of this movie than to the end of the holidays.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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