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Surviving Christmas
2004 - PG-13 - 93 Mins.
Director: Mike Mitchell
Producer: Betty Thomas
Written By: Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia
Starring: Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Christina Applegate
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site: www.survivingchristmas.com
   

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Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) is one distant and insecure individual but you wouldn't know it from seeing him at work. He excels as an advertising executive, devising ad campaigns for such things as spiked egg nog. Meanwhile, he couldn't manage a personal relationship if his life depended on it; so much so that his girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison) dumps him after he suggests that they spend Christmas in Fiji instead of spending it with family. Drew now finds himself all alone drinking spiked egg nog in his spacious Chicago apartment.

After a visit to his therapist (Stephen Root, 'Office Space'), Drew decides to heed his advice and go somewhere that reminds him of his childhood. Logically, he returns to his childhood home in the suburbs. Once there, he finds it inhabited by the Valco family, which includes husband Tom (James Gandolfini), his wife Christine (Catherine O'Hara), their rebellious son Brian (Josh Zuckerman), and twenty something daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate). Originally, Tom is anything but thrilled to have this strange man enter his home. However, he changes his mind when Drew offers to pay him 250,000 big ones to allow him to stay there and recreate his childhood, which involves even scripts at the dinner table.

Christine isn't thrilled at first but eventually relents because of the money at stake. Brian too isn't happy with the situation, especially when he is forced to move into the garage, even going as far as to say "When I become a serial killer, don't be surprised." His displeasure though is nothing compared to that of Alicia, who finds Drew to be an incredibly annoying nuisance. Things become more complicated when Drew goes as far as to hire a local stage actor (Bill Macy) to play the role of Grandpa Doo-Dah. What will happen when the unexpected return of someone from Drew's past causes turmoil for all involved?

'Surviving Christmas' is a pleasant enough mix of dark comedy and romance, not nearly as awful as DreamWorks inept ad campaign made it out to be. What the film does right is more aligned the comedy side of the equation. The screenplay by committee is much more humorous than it had any right to be. The comedy tends more toward of the low-brow variety but hits its mark nonetheless. The characters each have their quirks, which are milked for all their individual effects, especially Zuckerman's gloomy persona that leads to some surprisingly great lines such as the aforementioned "serial killer" line and a moment late in the film where his reaction to something he discovers while surfing the net is priceless. The film also benefits from director Mike Mitchell's ('Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo') determination to keep the jokes coming at a furious pace; essential because some of the jokes inevitably fail to work. The performers also do well with the comedy, as Affleck is perhaps his most relaxed here than in his last few films while James Gandolfini is well-cast as the tough-nosed Tom Valco. Catherine O'Hara once again makes the most of her given material and Christina Applegate does the same.

Where the film doesn't work is when it attempts to shoehorn the most unlikely romantic subplot seen in a film thus far this year. The two actors involved don't have a single spark of chemistry and, to make matters worse, they're indebted to spout excruciatingly clich├ęd dialogue.

While there's no doubt that 'Surviving Christmas' would have been better off excising the pointless romantic subplot that crops up in the last half of the film, the end product is still an average holiday comedy and far better than DreamWorks would like you to believe.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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