REVIEW: Four Christmases
Produced by: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman
Written by: Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Edited by: Mark Helfrich, Melissa Kent
Cinematography by: Jeffrey L. Kimball
Music by: Alex Wurman
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Favreau, Tim McGraw, Kristin Chenoweth, Katy Mixon, Dwight Yoakam, Carol Kane, Patrick Van Horn
Hey, have you run out of Christmas movie classics and now you’re in the mood to watch a movie with absolutely zero likeable characters in it? Then have I got a movie for you!
Four Christmases stars Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon as Brad and Kate, a happily unmarried yuppie couple who, regardless, have no intention of ever starting a family of their own, let alone get married. The reason for this is due to both of their sets of parents having split up and moved on into various new and dysfunctional marital situations that neither of them want to be a part of. And so, during the holidays, they develop a strategy they now execute every year which allows them to opt out of family gatherings while not hurting anyone’s feelings – lying about doing charity work during the holidays while secretly going on vacations. This year they plan to take a trip to Fiji but tell their families they’re doing medical work with orphans.
When their flight is delayed at the airport due to severe fog, however, they find themselves being interviewed live on a nationwide newscast about the weather, and the couple is caught in their lie by their families. And so Brad and Kate find themselves obligated to attend each of their parents’ Christmas events. Supposedly hilarious misery ensues for the once blissfully detached couple, while their meddling families reveal unexpected details about each of them, much to the dismay of the other. Of course, the legitimacy of their relationship thus comes into question, as Brad and Kate begin to wonder if they actually do want more out of their relationship than what they had initially wanted before, despite their families’ general dysfunction.
This is one of those movies where absolutely none of the characters act like rational human beings, and yet it’s also not clever enough to take the humor into truly absurdist territory, either. Assumptions are made about certain motivations, and characters scream at one another over stupid things. Bizarre personality quirks surface at random but are presented as if it were just a normal thing that the audience will relate to, such as a strange sequence in which Brad embraces his inner thespian and delivers a string of dramatically delivered, nonsensical Bible references that inspires the congregation of a church after he and Kate are cast in their nativity scene production after the two original leads suddenly vacate their roles.
What passes for humor in this movie is basically the comedic equivalent of jump scares in a horror movie – characters doing random things that are meant to blindside you with their sudden occurrence in the hopes of getting a cheap reaction but instead make no sense when compared to reality. It’s not actually funny, but if you still smirk, it’s just because it’s so unexpected and weird, you don’t really know how to react – just as how with horror movies you might still jump from being startled by a character’s shoulder being grabbed suddenly from off screen, only for it to be revealed it’s the character’s best friend who has some mundane question to ask. Here, it’s a jacked up Jon Favreau staring death at Vince Vaughn before tackling him and holding him in a submission hold at random times while other characters just laugh it off because… because I guess severe beat downs from even adult brothers is just how things are. Some might mistake this ridiculousness for actual humor, just as they might mistake being startled for actually being horrified by a movie as a genuinely scary time. They would be wrong.
The character motivations also don’t make a whole lot of sense. The plot goes through the motions of trying to make Brad and Kate’s families and their new living situations as ridiculously intolerable as possible to the couple while still expecting the audience to see them as likeable enough that we believe the central couple realizes through these interactions they might actually want more from the other person now than either of them had realized in the first place. A late game revelation that true love and happiness can be found if you find the right person, regardless of any quirks and flaws you might have as a couple, never makes up for the fact that all of these characters, including and probably especially the leads, are insufferable people in the first place and never stop being that way, and their families don’t really learn any lessons either, apart from perhaps Kate’s father, who, as the father of the female in the movie, provides some sound logic for his daughter to follow that purportedly resolves everything.
Four Christmases just isn’t a very good movie, but, even worse, it’s also an actively repellant one, too. The film wastes a talented cast on persistently miserable and oftentimes repugnant characters who don’t so much instill a lot of warm feelings towards them so much as they cast your own family life into stark relief with the members of this family and make you feel more grateful for it, rather than make you feel concerned about whether Brad and Kate will stay together. This would be a lot more tolerable if the movie had actually been cleverer with its humor, possibly while playing up the central characters’ unpleasantness for laughs by putting them in relief with their more wholesome and friendly family members they were trying to avoid, like a sort of couple’s road trip peer to Bad Santa. But, no they made everyone about as awful as each other, and, in the end, the possibility of these people producing offspring is ultimately more horrifying than humorous or heartwarming. Watching this movie is no way to spend your Christmas.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5