Verdict: If you are a HUGE fan of one or several of these actors, then see it, because they are all very talented. Otherwise, maybe catch it on Netflix next holiday season if you have nothing better to do.
Synopsis: “When the CEO (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close her hard-partying brother’s (T.J. Miller) branch, he and his chief technical officer (Jason Bateman) must rally their co-workers and host an epic office Christmas party in an effort to impress a potential client and close a sale that will save their jobs.” Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck
The Good: An incredibly talented cast that clearly had a great time together
This movie has one of the most talented casts of 2016 comedies, including Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Sam Richardson, Rob Corddry, T.J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, and Randall Park. As a unit, they all worked well together, and played off each other, utilizing their strengths, be it the absurdism of McKinnon or the wit of Munn. Of particular note, it was great to see Aniston break out of her shoehorned role a bit, still playing the colder, professional woman, but this time being absolutely fine with that, and able to kick some ass to boot. Honestly, there’s not much more to say about the cast: they are very talented and continue to be so here.
The Bad: Far too many and undeveloped characters, overstuffed plot, and lack of laughs
As good as the cast is together, they can’t save this movie. Most characters are barely touched on, so that when they start developing or the story begins following them, it doesn’t feel earned. And there are so damn many of them, which is the danger of having such a large, talented cast. There ends up being too many side characters, which makes it impossible to care about all of them or give enough care to the few central figures. On this list includes Soni, Bayer, McKinnon, and Corddry.
This bloating also tries to include tertiary characters, including two IT jerks (Oliver Cooper, Andrew Leeds), a potential client (Courtney B. Vance), a prostitute (Abbey Lee) and her pimp (Bell). It feels like it would’ve been much better as a miniseries, almost like The Office, where rather than trying to get us to understand the personalities and motivations of somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen plus characters in just under 2 hours, you spread that out over time.
Even of the major characters who are given the time, their traits and storylines feel forced. Munn and Bateman have excellent romantic chemistry, but the development of their relationship is mostly seen off-screen before the film even takes place. When we do finally see it blossom, it feels sudden, like we missed some key scene. Miller is funny as ever, but his character development is similarly unearned. He is Michael Scott at some points, horribly inappropriate and clearly incompetent, and by all rights you should root for Aniston as the older sister. But the movie demands that she be an antagonist and that he is reformed and good by the end because…well things worked out and that’s it. Nothing about him has changed. The film lacks all consequence.
These issues would not be as bad if the plot wasn’t completely overstuffed. There is something like eight intertwining plot lines, that might’ve been able to coalesce together, but absolutely did not in execution. Instead, it makes the film nearly impossible to follow easily, asking the audience to constantly think back about each of its many characters and remember “what the hell did they do earlier?” Even more upsetting was that most of the plots didn’t matter at all; they had little to no effect on the actual outcome of the film, which feels predestined.
Also, it’s not that funny. Not that it’s not funny, but I didn’t laugh for the first 20 minutes, easy. I might have laughed out loud, or LOL’ed as the kids say, 4 times or so. I wasn’t unhappy during the jokes (most of the time), but it was more amusing than funny, which is clearly not what this comedy was shooting for.
The Ugly: Great representation, diverse range of women characters, but an unfortunate dose of male-gaze
If there’s a shining light it’s that the film is actually pretty damn representative, showcasing a wide range of age and race, and chock full of really funny women. Of particular note was the Asian representation, which is to say that there are at least 3 Asian actors (Chung, Bayer, Soni) in a variety of roles, which is something you can rarely say for a modern Hollywood film. It’s also great to see a range of women characters, from cold and professional (Aniston) to quirky and conservative (McKinnon), sexy and outgoing (Chung), dedicated and imposing (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), romance-seeking and overwhelmed (Bayer), and techy and stubborn (Munn). The downside, boy did this movie love its breasts. In the first half hour or so, there are some strangely lingering shots and costumery choices that both really emphasize that their actors have breasts, in what is most certainly for the consumption of male-gaze.