Office Christmas Party (2016)

12/10/2016  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

It’s hard to slam a movie like Office Christmas Party for being unfunny garbage, because anyone with two braincells to rub together could tell you that. There are no two ways about it, though, this is not a good comedy. I’d hesitate to even call it a comedy in the first place. Yes, there are sight gags and plenty of drunk people fall down go boom, but remarkably little of it feels like your traditional setup-punchline style of comedy. Still, far be it from me to tell you what to laugh at. If your idea of comedy is watching assholes dance to DJ Kool while Jason Bateman deepthroats an ice sculpture that dispenses egg nog, then by all means, go hog wild.

The office in question is Zenotek, a tech company that deals in server farms. The Christmas party in question is thrown by Chicago branch manager Clay (T.J. Miller), whose Scroogey CEO sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is preparing to shut down her brother’s branch just in time for the holidays. Clay wants to throw an epic rager, not just to boost company morale, but in the hopes of closing a huge, branch-saving deal with prospective client Walter (Courtney B. Vance). Meanwhile, Clay’s newly divorced second-in-command Josh (Jason Bateman) is stuck playing the straight-man, struggling in vain to keep the party’s madness from spilling out into the street, while also sheepishly dancing around his feelings for tech wizard Tracey (Olivia Munn). And while all that is going on, IT manager Nate (Karan Soni) hires an escort (Abbey Lee Kershaw) to pose as the girlfriend he’s been telling everyone about. That last thread is the one that somehow completely derails the story.

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The cast watches dailies from that day’s shoot.

Somewhere in there is the sliver of plot, but mostly this is just a framework from which The Switch directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck can hang gags about awkward coworkers finding excuses to make out, or forcing otherwise uptight characters to dance around like complete buffoons (such as Kate McKinnon’s HR director Mary). The idea of an office Christmas party gone wrong ought to be a goldmine of quality sight gags and one-liners about lonely office drones, yet somehow the film can’t muster many jokes beyond simply pointing a camera at a roomful of people having a wild party.

The film dedicates most of its time to simply highlighting the debauchery on display, and to its credit, some of these montages are pretty fun. These are intercut with scenes in which Carol slowly finds an excuse to return to the office to rain on everyone’s parade, and it stops the film dead in its tracks. There’s one scene where Jennifer Aniston berates a little girl for stealing her Cinnabon in an airport lounge, except they forgot to write any jokes into this monologue, so it just becomes a scene of Jennifer Aniston being mean to a child at Christmas. The final act, when her story finally collides with the party, doesn’t really even have anything to do with the rest of the film. One by one, the main characters are dragged out of the office into a Fast & Furious-esque finale that only relates to the rest of the plot thanks to a throwaway line about Vin Diesel from one of the very first scenes.

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“I have come here to kick ass and spread Christmas cheer! And I’m all out of ass…”

Clay comes the closest to resembling an actual character, as he’s the only one we really get to spend any alone time with. Before he kicks off the Christmas party, we find him alone in his office literally praying that this party will save the company, because he loves his employees too much to kick them out on the street. It’s the only moment in the entire film you could legitimately describe as sweet, as it’s also the only instance in which any of these characters reveals themselves to be thinking of anyone other than themselves. It’s the thin shred of humanity separating Clay from Erlich Bachman, T.J. Miller’s idiot executive on HBO’s Silicon Valley. The whole thing is already a lost cause, but Miller tries his hardest to keep it all together.

Like an actual office Christmas party, this film feels like the product of an entire year’s worth of pent up grievances and missed opportunities bursting forth in a cacophony of rage and twinkling lights that ultimately pleases nobody. Gags that never made the final cut of 2016’s best and brightest yukfests probably found their way into this noxious concoction of a script, spewing forth from a murderer’s row of talent. Office Christmas Party pulls together an impressive roster of comedy MVPs — such as Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Randall Park, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, and Matt Walsh — and yet no one seems particularly invested in this endeavor. Just like an actual office Christmas party, the only proper thing to do is forget this thing ever happened by Monday morning.

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Jokes
A Coherent Story
Montages of Debauchery
Moments of Genuine Pathos
Bonus Points for Christmas

About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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