A neurotic builds a castle in the air. A psychotic lives in it. In Surviving Christmas, Ben Afflecks character rents a family to furnish it.
How bad is this black comedy with Affleck as lonely marketing exec Drew Latham
and James Gandolfini as Tom Valco, patriarch of the rental family?
So bad youre nostalgic for Gigli.
So painful you need an epidural.
So mindless youll lose yours wondering, "What were they thinking?"
"Most Americans think Christmas is a time for the family and in order to
endure it, they must be as drunk as possible," Drew says to a client, pitching
him on the benefits of spiking his product, which is eggnog.
Surviving Christmas exploits this ambivalence about the holidays by being as cynical
and as sentimental about them as humanly possible.
And in its attempts to appeal both to those who believe in the magic of Christmas
rituals and also to those who think the season has been devalued into an occasion
only for checkbook cheer, the film is schizophrenic. It doesnt need an audience,
it needs a prescription for Thorazine.
These days, Hollywood movies are like political candidacies, forked-tongue affairs
advocating both sides of an issue to attract the most constituents.
Terminator 2 was a call to arms about the elimination of arms. Female-empowerment
movies such as Charlies Angels resort to having said female fall on her
face so she wont be that threatening.
But while Surviving Christmas is not unprecedented in speaking out of both sides
of its mouth, it is, from conception to execution, an unalloyed, unqualified,
unmitigated disaster. It has two tones shrill cynicism and grating sentimentality.
I dont know whether the inconsistency of tone is the result of two pairs
of screenwriters working at cross purposes or the product of a director who gave
his actors too much improvisational latitude.
What I do know is that Affleck, who anchors this misbegotten affair, comes off
much worse than Gandolfini or Catherine OHara (as Mrs. Valco) or Christina
Applegate (the Valcos daughter).
Apart from Chasing Amy, I've never thought much of Afflecks acting. But
I wouldnt wish his flailing, mugging performance here on my worst enemy.
"I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school" is a lyric to a song
in Team America. What Affleck needs is to survive Surviving Christmas, because
I dont know if anyone in the audience can.
Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT)
Surviving Christmas is
Film: Movie Reviews [Surviving Christmas]
Surviving Christmas: DreamWorks
By Carrie Rickey
Article posted on 1/6/2005
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