Release Date:  October 22, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual content, language and a brief drug reference)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time: 1 hr. 32 min.
Director:  Mike Mitchell
Actors:  Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy, Jennifer Morrison

Oh, what a lovely Christmas movie - and so perfect for the whole family.  I'm sorry - you mean your family doesn't engage in pornography, pot-smoking and violence for the holidays?  Well, silly you.  You're missing all the fun.

The ridiculous plot of this early holiday release has Ben Affleck as Drew Latham, a successful media executive who doesn't relish the idea of spending Christmas alone again.  Unfortunately, Drew's a jerk, so he doesn't have any friends.  So he heads over to the suburbs, where he discovers the working-class Valcos in his childhood home.  Trying to recapture something of his idealized youth, Drew offers them $250,000 to take him in and recreate the perfect Christmas, which they are only too willing to do.

Drew's romanticized version of Christmas involves everything from shopping and tobogganing to making gingerbread houses, and soon the Valcos begin to tire of his impetuous antics.  When their oldest daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) comes home, she refuses to play along, creating tension that soon turns to - you guessed it - "true love" with Drew.  But then Drew's girlfriend shows up with her wealthy parents - another unexpected twist in this astonishing plot - and the Valcos must pretend that they really are his family.  Why?  We don't know.  But can Alicia do it, even though she and Drew have just kissed?  And will the girlfriend find out?  Stay tuned, if you dare, for the next episode of "As the Cinema Turns."

If you think the plot of this movie is lame (and how could you not), then you haven't seen the sets, which are filled with the fakest looking snow I've ever seen on studio back-lots - a bit like "Sesame Street" in winter, only I hate to insult that show. Everything, from the characters to the dialogue to the jokes, is as stale as a week-old cheeseball.  Not even James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara can save this disaster of a script, particularly since they don't have a lot to say, although O'Hara certainly does her best.  There's nothing admirable about Drew, who never changes from the wealthy manipulator he started out as.  He also has no chemistry whatsoever with Applegate.  We're expected to believe that after fighting for days on end, one hour sledding and another hour watching TV is enough to make these two fall madly in love.  We're also expected to care.  And trust me - that's a lot to expect.

Aside from its cinematic failures, "Surviving Christmas" is full of raunch.  There's the teenage son (Josh Zuckerman) who won't leave his room because he's so addicted to internet pornography.  There's also the pot-smoking grandfather (Bill Macy), who enjoys watching that pornography with his grandson, and who tells him that in the ‘good old days,' he and his friends used to pay young girls to take off their clothes.  Yeah, those were the good old days, Grandpa.  Then there's the elderly family friend who's always trying to seduce O'Hara's character - the family "mom."  And, of course, we have the ubiquitous homosexual couple portrayed as not only normal but deliriously happy. 

But all that is nothing compared to the plotline which has O'Hara becoming "liberated" from her boring life as a housewife by going on a pornographic photo shoot arranged by Drew.  This horrendous situation is further made into a laughing matter when her son, father-in-law and guests all spot Mom's not-just-naked-but-really-lewd pictures on the internet.  Merry Christmas!