Surviving Christmas

Director: Mike Mitchell

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

We've got the director of Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo (1999), so what are are the odds that Surviving Christmas (2004) can be anything but a turd plopped out of another turd? On the other hand, what are the odds anyone could ever make a film as ugly & stupid as Deuce Bigelow more than once in their lifetime?

Then again, it stars Ben Affleck, the guy who in interviews seems like such a genuine sweetheart who you'd love to be able to like, but he keeps starring in movies so bad even a better actor couldn't've saved them.

So let's watch this bugger & find out if Deuce Bigelow meets Gigili (2003), of if Ben has a nice little film playing Drew, a wealthy lonely S.O.B. who suddenly realizes he has no family nor even a friend or business association who'd be willing to put up with him for the holidays.

Surviving ChristmasDespairing, he visits the house where he grew up, imposing himself on the dysfunctional family that lives there.

It's about here he gets knocked unconscious with a shovel, & that alas is what has to pass for one of the "big" jokes of the comedy.

In his emotional breakdown which manifests as an almost hysterical happiness, he offers the family a quarter-million dollars to pretend to be the family he lacks, just for a few days leading up to Christmas morning.

At heart Drew is still pretty much a jerk. He uses his money-leverage to force the family into patterns of behavior conducive to his fantasy. He's much more disgusting than the script quite acknowledges, wanting him to be a romantic lead.

Since it's a Christmas movie we have to assume his creepy anti-malice is going to in some way repair the working class family under his thumb, as they were headed for divorce before his arrival, & only holding off telling the kids until Christmas was over. And we shouldn't expect the script to greatly understand a wealthy douchebag buying a family's serfdom couldn't cure a cat of fleas let alone a whole family of longstanding dysfunction.

Still, if you go into it expecting the least from this dog, it will mildly entertain, & may even strike the viewer as one of Affleck's best two or three roles to date. Which is more condemnation of his achievement up to now than praise for Surviving Christmas.

it has its moments, few though they are. The mom, Christine (Catherine O'Hare), has a seedy photoshoot with a sleezy photographer (Udo Kier) which is a hoot & was one of the few scenes that could've been longer. It may have benifited from not having Affleck anywhere in sight.

Any scenes dominated by Christine & her husband Tom (James Gandolfi) have some appeal as they're fine character actors who do as much as can be done with the faulty script. But Affleck being much more a Gentleman's Quarterly model than a thespian can't make up for the story's shortcomings.

With Josh Zuckerman as the porn-addled teenage son Brian who won't leave his bedroom, & Christina Applegate as older daughter Alicia, it's hard not to remember Applegate was the teenage nymphomaniac on the sitcome Married with Children, & the whole family just a little Married with Childrenish.

Apparently a lot of the script was left blank to be filled in by "in character" riffs, which only Gandolfi & O'Hare were at all good at, & even for them it wasn't the best way to wring sharply timed comedy out of the skeletal storyline.

By the time romance begins to develop with the grown daughter of his bought & paid for family, it's looking like this nutsack is not only going to reshape the family to his satisfaction, he might afterward find them good enough to marry into. But not before everything goes to hell in a handbasket with phony lessons learned.

When it's all over, it'll have proven itself a by-the-numbers holiday movie, neither bad enough to have avoided nor good enough to have sought out.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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