Movie Review: “Office Christmas Party” – Party Foul

Written by Jeremiah Greville December 14, 2016

Office Christmas Party (2016) - T.J. Miller & Courtney B. Vance

Have you ever been really excited to go a party, one that all of your friends were going to be at, only to get there and be told you have to help set up? And that you would also be responsible for re-stocking it with ice and drinks? Have you ever had to repeatedly leave a party for reasons that made no damn sense, only to return and find out you’ve missed out on all the fun? Maybe your best friend is sick and needs to leave. Maybe the closet orgy started without you. Well, I know how you feel. That emotion has been refined by scientists in a lab and injected into every single digital frame of the new holiday comedy, Office Christmas Party. It’s like an open bar of bad decisions–you won’t enjoy it while it’s happening, or remember much by the time it’s over.

Office Christmas Party is the latest from Josh Gordon & Will Speck, directors of Blades of Glory and The Switch. If you’re familiar with either of those movies, then for better or for worse you won’t be surprised with the quality of this one. Gordon & Speck have proven themselves as consistent directors over their three feature films. Consistently bad-to-mediocre, but consistent nonetheless. This is another completely uneven yet sporadically charming comedy from the pair. Unfortunately, the directors have left their outrageously talented cast stranded without a single life-preserver, mugging for the camera while drowning in overstuffed subplots. From now on, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll be referring only to the actors’ names, not their characters’. This is an incredible group of comedy talent, and the fact that their combined efforts weren’t enough to save this movie borders on the absurd.

“Your mind is like a drunk baby.”

Almost every member of the ensemble has some storyline or extended gag that plays out over the course of the film, but with so many of them fighting for sparse screen time, none of them manages to shine. The main storyline is a four-way dance between Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, and Jennifer Aniston. Bateman and Munn are employees of the Chicago branch of a fictional tech company and work for Miller, their zany, well-meaning boss. Their holiday is put in danger when Aniston, Miller’s contemptuous sister, is sent from corporate to cut bonuses, fire 40% of the staff, and, oh yeah, CANCEL their fabled annual holiday party. Bateman, Munn, and Miller eventually hatch a scheme to woo a client large enough to save their employees’ jobs by–you guessed it–throwing the biggest office Christmas party ever. It’s a lovably stupid premise bogged down by way, way too much story.

Office Christmas Party (2016)

Yes, you heard that right–too much story! All you should need to know about this film is in the name, Office Christmas Party. It’s about a holiday party, set in an office, around Christmas. That’s it. Every plot element should feed into that premise, and do the most minimally efficient storytelling possible to get there–and stay there–but that doesn’t happen. This is one of the film’s biggest failings. While the initial set up is quick and dirty, the film spends too much time justifying its own existence to have fun with its premise. Basically, we spend so much time outside of the party that we don’t really ever get to enjoy it. When we do see the party, as it slowly devolves into an increasingly surreal drug-fueled post-apocalypse, the film is at its most inspired and creative. But this movie is more concerned with the people making the party happen then the party itself or those experiencing it. And that was a poor decision for a comedy like this–we’re supposed to want to be at this party, not host it. When will movies like this just let us have fun?

“It’s so weird. I feel just like I’m still at the office.”

In place of all that hypothetical fun is the endless bevy of subplots that I mentioned before: Vanessa Bayer plays a single mom falling for new employee, Randall Park; Courtney B. Vance is a corporate executive on the edge; Karin Soni is a quiet boss who hires an escort to fool his subordinates into thinking he’s cool; Rob Corddry and Kate McKinnon play dueling pro and anti-party advocates, respectively; and Jillian Bell is an excitable, unhinged pimp. Sam Richardson is probably one of the only recognizable comedic actors without an appreciable sub-plot (but still gets a bit of one)–he plays an uptight office drone that later goes against-type as his own fake free-wheeling DJ cousin. All of this is in addition to the main storyline and raucous party antics, and it gets untenable rather quickly. Yet these are all modern comic actors at the top of their game. If you don’t recognize their names, you’ll recognize their faces, and years from now you’ll look back and be surprised so many talents were in a movie this bad.

Office Christmas Party (2016) - T.J. Miller & Jason Bateman

But I mention them in detail because in the rare moments when Office Christmas Party actually manages to provoke a laugh it’s almost entirely due to the extended cast. Let’s be clear, here: not the script, not the directors, not the editors—the cast. Kate McKinnon is right in her wheelhouse as an HR Manager determined to keep the party as reasonable as possible, while Jillian Bell and T.J. Miller both let loose in roles tailor-made for their particular brands of profane insanity. Corddry, however, feels severely underutilized, as the manic energy he had on display in Hot Tub Time Machine only shows up in a few key scenes. As a relative comedy veteran, more focus on the rivalry between him and McKinnon could have replaced some of the more superfluous bits. This includes the third act feel-good resolution, a complete piece of garbage that takes up almost 5 minutes of tensionless screen time tacked on to give the narrative a neat resolution. If that sounds harsh, then I’m underselling how bad it is. Again, too much plot and not enough substance. None of it was needed, and the movie suffered because of it. The rest of the movie wasn’t much better, though. There were not one, but TWO separate scenes where someone fell down, only to immediately get back up and shout, “I’m okay!” That’s one of the laziest and most overly-used comedy gags of the past decade, and if you know what I’m talking about, you have an idea of how bad this film is.

“I don’t see happy. I see crappy.”

But in the end, this movie is relatively harmless. Nobody is hurt by it existing, and you won’t be a bad person if you enjoy it more than I did. It’s definitely not a good film, but most of the jokes are relatively inoffensive, and the performances are well done across the board. While it is technically a Christmas movie, there’s very little to prevent this from airing anytime of the year. It’s not saccharine or overly sentimental, and the holiday season is just an excuse for profanity, nudity, and whole lot of drugs. As much as it wants to invoke the classic National Lampoon vibe, Office Christmas Party falls short, arriving closer to 2012’s regrettable Project X. It’s just another easily-dismissed end of year event, but luckily the kind that you don’t need to be blackout drunk to completely forget.

My Rating: 4/10

Office Christmas Party (2016) - Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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  1. Office Christmas Party is so full of rauchiness and laugh out loud fun. Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Mun and the rest of the cast really know how to put together a wild Christmas party and the outtakes were hilarious. I had a great time and I hope you will too.

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