I saw Office Christmas Party three days ago, and I remember it less and less with each passing hour. I want to say TJ Miller, Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn throw a lavish Christmas party together to woo a potential client whose big bucks business contract will save their company from the axe about to be brought down on it by Jennifer Aniston as the ruthless CEO. Hilarity ensues.
Office Christmas Party isn’t really supposed to stick with you, though. It’s just supposed to be a fun 105-minute escape from the world. Laugh at the site of People Vs. O.J.’s Johnny Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) living like a golden god after he gets coked-up at the party. Enjoy the latest round of Aniston playing an overly bitchy character in her ongoing game of “I’m not Rachel Green, dammit! Friends was like a million years ago!” Make a running list in your head of all the genuine comic talent filling out the supporting cast (Jillian Bell! Randall Park! Kate McKinnon! Vanessa Bayer! Rob Corddry!). Ponder whether Munn is actually considered a decent actress or just a nerdier man’s Megan Fox. Form your own opinion on the state of Bateman’s career (playing yet another milquetoast leading man who works in the occasional dry, sarcastic joke). Do the math in your head to figure out if Aniston and Miller should really be playing siblings (he’s 12 years younger), or how much of an age gap there is between love interests Bateman and Munn (he’s 11 years older, not as big of a gap as you might have thought). Mostly, watch, laugh (if you feel like it) and then forget.
Shouldn’t we demand more from our comedies, though? Does Office Christmas Party simply contribute to what Evan Puschak of The Nerdwriter recently called “The Epidemic Of Passable Movies,” those films which are not outright bad and in some cases kind of okay but are still ultimately “a far cry from great or noteworthy or something that you would like to see more than once.” Puschak highlighted Wedding Ringer and Now You See Me, but Office Christmas Party is more like Horrible Bosses, perhaps someday leading to an even more forgettable sequel the stars only take as a paycheck gig and then later admit as much (as was the case with Horrible Bosses 2). Is this simply the state of mainstream American film comedy, likely a direct reflection of the increasingly risk-averse mentality of the major film studios as well as the brain drain which has seen the most promising comedic talent (i.e., writers, directors, actors) migrate to compellingly original TV shows?
I say all of that, yet I’m someone who liked Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates as well as Bad Moms. Those are two broad, mainstream comedies others regarded as merely passable, particularly Mike and Dave which is a film lacking a point of view beyond “that Wedding Crashers sure was funny, huh.” Moreover, like Office Christmas Party they are both overrun by Apatow-esque scenes where the camera simply stares at the actors as they clearly improv their way through a punch of jokes (the best of which usually end up in an end credits gag reel). However, I embraced them for allowing the women to get all the best jokes, and in the case of Bad Moms it at least has something to say about the state of motherhood in America (even if that statement happens to simply be “wow, it sucks being a mom these days, but maybe don’t be so hard on yourselves”).
Office Christmas Party has no real point of view. There are token references to this Christmas party flying in the face of politically correct culture as well as an honest observation about the way office Christmas parties can often simply feel like being at work at night. However, this is ultimately a fairly simple movie about a big-hearted guy (Miller) trying to save his company to honor his father’s memory (shades of Tommy Boy) while his top lieutenants (Bateman, Munn) attempt to keep him from going too far while also negotiating their unconsummated mutual attraction. Meanwhile, the bosses’ secretary (Vanessa Bayer), a long-suffering single mother, navigates potential hook-ups at the party, the company’s head of HR (McKinnon) gets in everyone’s way before letting loose and various other bit players have their own roles to fill, such as Blunt Talk’s Karan Soni desperately attempting to convince his underlings that he has a hot girlfriend. Eventually, all of these plot threads collide in a third act where the film pulls a tech solution somewhat out of its ass.
With so much talent in the cast, there are some laughs to be found, from the more obvious “guy falls down, goes boom” physical gags to the occasionally inspired line delivery of a Miller, Bateman or McKinnon. Jillian Bell, in particular, steals scenes as a pimp who is Martha Stewart one second, Scarface the next. However, even with the freedom of an R-Rating the jokes don’t hit as hard nor as frequently as they should, and you won’t be quoting lines to friends for weeks if not years to come. In due time, you’ll have likely forgotten all about Office Christmas Party, but if it at least makes you laugh a couple of times during those 105 minutes is that all you really need? It’s apparently all you can realistically hope for these days.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Forgettable, time-filling R-Rated holiday entertainment which deftly juggles multiple plot threads and leans on its improv-prone cast to rain down punchlines, even if they’re as uninspired as Kate McKinnon farting when she’s nervous. The best gag is in the trailer, but, admittedly, it’s a pretty good gag.