Film — Surviving Christmas (PG-13)
Surviving Christmas  (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

A manic Ben Affleck kidnaps a group of actors and forces them, at gunpoint, to perform in Surviving Christmas, a movie written by an angry reject from the Saturday Night Live writing team and edited by an even angrier squirrel.

Or, at least, that’s what it seems like.

However, all indications are that actual actors like James Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara voluntarily worked on this movie. But while the writing team —yes, a whole four people had to work together to create a script this bad—isn’t from the SNL reject pile, the lead writers did, according to Internet Movie Database, start out as the brain power behind A Very Brady Sequel and follow a downward trajectory that ended at Josie and the Pussycats. So, you know, I’m not that far off.

Affleck, usually so shocked and tickled to be in an actual movie, is, here, more like an understudy with a serious caffeine buzz. He’s delighted to be in the spotlight and unnaturally energetic.

Of course, Drew Latham (Affleck) is all about the unnatural. He’s an ad executive with a non-existent sense of reality. He likes to do things big but noncommittally so. So, even though his bunny of a girlfriend Missy (Jennifer Morrison) is clearly waiting for all sorts of engagement-ring-parent-meeting promissory notes of a solid consumption-centered future, Drew presents her with tickets to Fuji for Christmas.  She’s appalled by this offering of a tropical vacation—this being, by the way, the downside of dating the stupid—and demands that they spend Christmas mingling with relatives. Drew tells her that he’d rather tan and she storms out in an it’s-over-between-us huff.

Though not in a hurry to introduce or be introduced to parents, Drew takes Missy’s “Christmas is for family” rant to heart. After unsuccessfully trying to glom on to the family gatherings of friends, Drew decides to visit his childhood home. While standing on his former front lawn, soaking in the nostalgia, Drew gets an idea. He decides to pay the current occupants—the gruff Tom (Gandolfini), the unhappy Christine (O’Hara), the porn-addicted teenage Brian (Josh Zuckerman)—to be his family. They get $250,000 and he gets to fabricate memories of a happy, family-filled holiday.

Exuding serial-killer-esque craziness, Drew forces the family to decorate, sing candles, shop for gifts and otherwise simulate gaiety. His plan hits a few roadbumps, including the appearance of grown-up daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate). All check-out-our-banter sassback, Alicia becomes more than just a temporary pretend sister as the two start to open up about their families and past. But will the sudden reappearance of Missy smack a big icy snowball in the face of their burgeoning affection?

Ho ho h-yuck…This movie is so stupid. Affleck’s inexplicable mania aside (no amount of twitchy energy makes up for this much lameness) everything about Surviving Christmas has the freshness and excitement of a soggy, icingless sugar cookie. The one-note repetitive nature of the humor—Drew is rich and desperate—quickly, no, instantly reaches that six-minute-of-an-SNL-skit level of awkwardness. By the halfway point, the movie has become almost atonal—a grating, ear-bleeding source of forced joviality on par with mall Christmas music.

Not even Halloween and this movie already has me dreading the holidays.

- Amy Diaz 

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