Surviving Christmas has a somewhat promising premise--an eccentric millionaire persuades the family living in his childhood home to let him spend the holidays with them--but somewhere between pitching the idea and the final product, something has gone terribly, horribly wrong.
Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) is a handsome, smart millionaire (how he got so rich is a mystery) who is dumped by his girlfriend right before Christmas because he wants to take her to Fiji for the holidays (and if you think THAT is stupid, wait for the rest of the movie) instead of staying with family. My god! The nerve. Now facing Christmas utterly alone, Drew pays a wistful visit to his idyllic childhood home, meets the family living there--the dysfunctional Valcos--and decides he's going to bribe them to be his family through the holidays. Here's the wacky part: They agree. Well, at least patriarch Tom (James Gandolfini), who only sees the dollar signs, does--his wife, Christine (Catherine O'Hara), and teenage son, Brian (Josh Zuckerman), go along reluctantly. They have to; it wouldn't be a movie if they didn't. Soon the obnoxious Drew is dragging the lackluster bunch all over the place, re-creating happy Christmas memories like taking pictures with Santa and singing carols, and just when they think they can't take another moment, their sharp-as-a-tack eldest daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) shows up--and throws a crimp into all of Drew's best-laid plans. I mean, he has to fall in love with her and get all mushy and make the disgruntled Valcos realize the meaning of family and Christmas and all that junk, right? Because that makes sense, right?
It's really a shame when something this bad happens to good actors. Gandolfini tries his hand at making people laugh but comes off just about as sinister as he does playing Tony Soprano, especially when he's pelting Drew with grenade-like snowballs. Meanwhile, O'Hara, usually a whiz at the whole comedy thing, ends up throwing away her lines. Not to mention she looks oh-so-bedraggled, with stringy hair and puffy eyes (she really should have demanded a better makeup person). Applegate fares a bit better as the sharp Alicia and romantic foe to Drew but the lightning-quick speed at which the two go from hating each other to making out just belittles them both. And then, of course, there's Affleck. Poor, poor Ben. He really is a likable fellow with a wicked sense of humor; anyone who has seen him on the talk show circuit can attest to that. He just can't seem to find the right material, be it comedy, action, whatever. Perhaps he should consider looking at an indie film or two, maybe play a really juicy supporting part, build some credibility. But he most definitely needs to get a new agent and stop making these awful duds.
It's not at all a good sign when there are four credited writers on a movie and the director, Mike Mitchell, is best known for Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Nope, that's a big giant red flag--and Surviving Christmas doesn't do anything to prove otherwise. Granted, the premise isn't half bad, but the key to it would be emphasizing the eccentricity of a millionaire who wants to bribe a family to be his through the holidays. Don't make the millionaire some guy who's drop-dead gorgeous and actually pretty together, if only a bit obnoxious, and give him a love interest that makes no sense. You need to build up exactly why he so unconventional. Is he, like, Howard Hughes weird or Richie Rich oddball? Then throw him in the mix with this dysfunctional family, and, without him ever changing who he is, watch how he affects the lives around him. Imagine the part being played by a younger Christopher Walken or Steve Buscemi. That would be hilarious.
If anyone needs to survive anything, it's having to sit through this dreadfully unfunny holiday movie. Pin a medal on me.