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Surviving Christmas
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Mike Mitchell

Written By:
Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan, Jeffrey Ventimilia

Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy, Jennifer Morrison, Udo Kier, David Selby, Stephanie Faracy, Stephen Root, Sy Richardson, Tangie Ambrose, Peter Jason

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Surviving Christmas (2004)
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Movie Review by Elizabeth
November 19th, 2004

STORY: Lonely, rich Chicago ad exec Drew Latham (Affleck) visits his childhood home and spontaneously offers the family living there, the blue collar Valcos, a hefty sum if they’ll “adopt” him for Christmas. Madcap hijinks and grudging holiday cheer ensue.

WHAT’S GOOD: The best bits of this comedy concern Drew’s attempts to mold the family as if producing a Hallmark special, including casting suspicious Valco daughter Alicia (Applegate) as a South American maid named Consuela, and introducing his own version of a grandfather, which will of course end up badly. Applegate proves herself again to be funny in her own right and a good comedic foil (see also “Anchorman”); she's convincing both when challenging and embarrassing Drew, and also when falling for him. In particular, it is always a pleasure watching O’Hara in action. As the beleaguered mother/wife, she makes the most of her material and proves herself the brightest spot in the film.

WHAT’S BAD: A better title would be “Surviving A Slump,” because Ben Affleck has been mired in one for the past three years. Attractive and naturally charming, Affleck is at his best when he’s relying on those talents in breezy comedic roles. Here, however, he is all sweaty, anxious demands and forced, toothy grins; Drew seems more bent on annoying the hell out of the Valcos than winning them over. We already know Drew has no friends or family – he should be desperate to endear himself. The fact that this may be exactly why Drew is so lonely does nothing to make it less aggravating to watch.

The thing about formula movies, like Christmas ones, is you know right off the bat that a certain outcome is on the way: discovering the true meaning of Christmas, finding that one pure thing that brings happiness in a crazy, mixed-up world. It can be enjoyable to watch how this unfolds if it happens in a somehow new way. But “Surviving Christmas” sets up expectations and then plods boringly towards them. It should come as no surprise that Christina Applegate is here to be Affleck’s love interest. You know they’ll end up in each other’s arms; the only question is how? Alicia goes from hating Drew to suddenly falling for him, in the space of about ten seconds. There is no spark of chemistry or reason for this change of heart, except for plot requirement. Gandolfini is largely wasted as the grumpy dad with (naturally) the hidden soft heart. Will he be a tough guy? Will his toughness be challenged in ways he’ll find publicly embarrassing? You can figure that out too.

Further, the agreement of the Valcos to accept $250,000 from a stranger, who Gandolfini initially knocks out with a swift snow shovel to the head, simply makes no sense. This family lives in a nice-sized, comfortable house in a good neighborhood. They recently bought a computer. The Valcos have no apparent need for money, but the movie pretends they’re blue collar folks barely squeaking by. And if that’s not the case, then they are merely opportunistic and greedy; hardly sympathetic characters. At one point, O’Hara rejects the money, only to re-accept it in greater amounts moments later.

Overall, this movie would best be watched while drinking spiked egg-nog, as Drew himself recommends as a way of getting through the holidays. It's the only way to ignore the big faults.

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