US Release Date: 10-22-2004
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
- Ben Affleck, as
- Drew Lathem
- Christina Applegate, as
- James Gandolfini, as
- Catherine O'Hara, as
- Josh Zuckerman, as
- Brian Valco
- Bill Macy, as
- Danielle Panabaker, as
- Bryan Fisher as
Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate in Surviving Christmas.
Surviving Christmas is a cute, if schizophrenic, little holiday movie that's not helped by being released too early. I love the holidays, and call me a traditionalist if you want to, but shouldn't we at least wait until after Halloween before we even begin to start thinking about Christmas? Despite the early release, as a situation comedy, Surviving Christmas does manage to sporadically entertain in an extremely light-hearted way.
Ben Affleck stars as Drew Latham, an advertising executive in Chicago who attempts to recapture the Christmases of his childhood by returning to his boyhood home and staying, for the last few days leading up to Christmas, with the family who live their now. They're (Mom, Dad, teenage son, and grown daughter home for the holidays) skeptical of the suggestion at first, but give in when Drew offers them $250,000 to pretend he's a part of their family. Drew quickly tries everyone's patience when he tries to force them into the Christmas spirit. He even goes so far as to hire a local actor to come in and play his grandfather to make it feel homier.
The problem with the movie is that it seems caught between being heartwarming and an all out comedy and so it never fully succeeds at either. There's no doubt that memories of childhood Christmases are poignant and it's easy to see why someone might want to recapture them, but this movie isn't deep enough to explore those feelings. We're barely introduced to Drew before he returns to his old home and begins behaving like a maniac. Only at the 11th hour do we discover the real reason for his return and by then it's almost too late.
There are some funny moments in the film. Some of the best scenes are those between Christina Applegate as the Valco's daughter and Affleck's Drew. Since Drew never had a sister, he suggests she pretend to be the maid during his stay. A suggestion she doesn't appreciate. Of course, eventually, sparks develop between them and the story attempts to add romance to the comedy, something that helps, but should have been played up more.
In the movie, Drew learns the lesson that sometimes less is more and that the moment needs to carry itself. That's a lesson the writers and director obviously haven't learned themselves. And the same is true of Ben Affleck's performance, which is so hammy that it could be served for Easter dinner.
A big part of our memories of Christmases past are the holiday classics that we watched as children. Who can forget Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story? Those movies have lasted for many years and will live on for many more. Surviving Christmas however, will most likely be forgotten even before this Christmas comes around.
Ben Afleck, Josh Zuckerman and a symbolic bowl of nuts,
The problem I had was that Drew does not make sense as a character. Drew has clearly had a nervous breakdown to do what he does. The movie never says why or when. He just suddenly starts acting like a lunatic. Drew works at a large firm, seems nice enough and has an expensive apartment. For whatever reason, he has no friends.
The family living in his childhood home are likewise obnoxious. The dad sees Drew burn a piece of paper in his front yard so he hits him over the head with a shovel? He hates Drew as Drew is clearly deranged. Even though Drew paid him $250,000, the Dad cannot bring himself to play along for a few days.
How can a Christmas movie succeed without any likable characters? The jokes are even few and far between. What jokes there are hardly register, "Did you hear that? That stair squeaked. You know what we used to call that squeaky stair? The squeaky stair! " Afleck says at one point with far too much enthusiasm.
At the heart of Surviving Christmas is a nice warm chestnut of an idea. A man being so lonely during the holidays that he would pay someone to pretend to be his family is a very poignant statement. The director however, had no idea how to carry it through. Afleck acts flighty, while the family acts depressed. It never comes together. It all ends up a bigger mess than a pile of wrapping paper after the presents have been opened.
Photos © Copyright DreamWorks Pictures (2004)