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Surviving Christmas Screens Stale as a Week-Old Cheeseball

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 22 Oct
<i>Surviving Christmas</i> Screens Stale as a Week-Old Cheeseball

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!

Despite the fact that it's a film about the Christ Mass, the only spiritual content is when Drew writes down the source of his pain and says, "I forgive you," then tosses it into the fire.  Unfortunately, he writes down "Everyone I care about leaves me."  So who is Drew forgiving and why?  It's never made clear.   Ah, forgiveness - better to leave it vague, you know.  Moreover, the film's message seems to be that the real meaning of Christmas is about connecting with family.  And conveniently, director Mike Mitchell ("Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo") has redefined family to mean anyone that you happen to connect with, in a deep way.  Of course, according to Christian pollster George Barna, that's the way the overwhelming majority of GenXers define family, anyway.

Christians believe that Christmas is not about family, but about Jesus.  If we celebrate the Christ-Mass with our family - however we define that word, and given the radical implosion of the family, the redefinition is tragically necessary - that's great.  But if we celebrate family without Jesus, then our rejoicing is in vain.  Our true family, as Jesus pointed out, are those who worship Him.  And we're very blessed indeed if the two happen to overlap.

The film has a few positive things, like the rare benign joke and a scene that looks like a well-filmed clip from "America's Funniest Videos" - if you think people screaming and falling off a sled makes it hilarious.  Unfortunately, even these kid-friendly jokes are few and far between.  Besides, even if you choose to set aside the perverse sexuality and language, you've still got a really bad film. 

When it comes to "Surviving Christmas," it was all I could do to survive the 92 minutes run-time before escaping from the theatre.  I suggest you do the same, only long before it begins.


  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:   Drinking throughout film; character smokes pot.
  • Language/Profanity:  Approximately two dozen profanities and obscenities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Extreme - includes child surfing pornographic websites with grandfather participating; wife engaging in pornographic photo shoot and later, her lewd photos appear on Internet and are seen by entire family.
  • Violence:   One man attacks another with shovel, knocking him unconscious; various physical humor-style falls (from stairs) and accidents (e.g. sledding).