This is the first balls-to-the-wall comedy review I’ve done and I think I need to be clear that with other movies, you know, the ones that actually take themselves kind of seriously, I try to pay a lot of attention to intricacies like plot, pacing, direction, cinematography and framing, acting quality and whether the movie is thought provoking or insightful. In the case of a movie with the generic title Office Christmas Party, all that serious stuff sort of gets thrown out the window because as a comedy, its first, last and pretty much only priority is to get the audience laughing. Movies like this don’t have plots, they have a basic premise which serves only as a framework to create preposterous or insanely funny situations which, if done right, give us an excuse to forget political correctness, manners or discretion. Sure, there’s all kinds of deep analysis about cultural trends and social anxieties that can be made about what it is that allows us to burn off some stress and what we find humor in, but the bottom line for any comedy is not any of that, it’s did it make me laugh?
In this case, the basic idea is that it’s Christmas time in the corporate world and tech company Xenotek is facing a crisis when CEO Carol Vanstone as played by Jennifer Aniston, decides to Skrooge her way into the Chicago branch on the night before Christmas threatening to shut the place down and fire everyone without even paying out any bonuses. It turns out she has a personal grudge against the branch manager and her brother Clay, played by T.J. Miller because he was the fun brother who was constantly screwing off while she had to deal with all the serious problems of their rich family. Jason Bateman plays Josh, the Chief Technical Officer who really runs things and Olivia Munn is his tech guru who has come up with a new wi-fi that can stream internet through any power source including lightbulbs or kitchen appliances. Carol demands that the office make good on its profit quotas in the next two days, or else, and cancels Clay’s ideas for a big office Christmas party before she leaves to fly off to London. A potential 14 million dollar customer account appears in the form of Walter, played by Courtney Vance, who Clay and Josh decide should be shown what a fun and family-oriented company Zenotek is by having him come to, you guessed it, their office Christmas party. Carol gets snowed in and catches wind that the Christmas party she ordered cancelled is happening. Chaos and mass hijinks ensue.
So does all this work? Well, I like this cast. Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman are reunited here from the Horrible Bosses movies – which by the way this movie is not connected to in any way – and she is sort of the most horrible boss you can imagine having. This being an ensemble piece with scene after scene of random sight gags as well as verbal quips, I laughed a lot in the first act, which is where they seemed to put the most effort into the dialog, less so in the second act where a lot more physical comedy starts happening and I was pretty much done by the third when predictably, everything comes together exactly as you knew it would five minutes in. However, with four story creators, three more screenplay writers and two directors on the credits, you definitely have a hodge-podge of collaboration going on and some of it worked while some of it fell totally flat. I thought the biggest waste was Kate McKinnon, a comedian I love to watch, who at first is pretty good as the H.R. manager trying desperately to keep everything gender and race appropriate but who eventually gets so plastered that it’s just fart jokes from that point forward.
All in all, yes, I laughed quite a bit and I think you will too if you enjoy some release from the pressures of corporate life and are looking for something irreverant in the spirit of almost any National Lampoon comedy. But given that for me, the last half of the movie was almost a total waste, I have to give this movie an overall rating of Meh. It’s fine and some of it is truly hilarious but I did not come out of this feeling like I’d really been as thoroughly entertained as I could have or should have been by this cast and crew. But you know, comedy really brings out our unique tastes and what works for some people doesn’t always work for others. My girlfriend was not really amused much at all, while the person sitting on the other side of me could not stop laughing from beginning to end, so you let me know in the comments what you thought. I look forward to hearing from you.
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