Surviving Christmas

Just like many real-life holiday get-togethers with the family, this comedy starts out pleasantly enough but degenerates into awkwardness and furtive watch-checking to see how much longer you have to suffer before you can leave. Millionaire Chicago ad executive Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) has the Midas touch when it comes to work, but his personal life is...read more

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Reviewed by Angel Cohn
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Just like many real-life holiday get-togethers with the family, this comedy starts out pleasantly enough but degenerates into awkwardness and furtive watch-checking to see how much longer you have to suffer before you can leave. Millionaire Chicago ad executive Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) has the Midas touch when it comes to work, but his personal life is a disaster. His beautiful girlfriend, Missy (Jennifer Morrison), flips out about his plans to visit Fiji together for the holidays, insisting that Christmas should be spent with family and leaving him alone in his massive but empty apartment. After a brief visit with a frantic therapist (Stephen Root), who advises Drew to go somewhere that reminds him of his childhood, he heads to the house he grew up in and is seized with an overwhelming desire to move back in for the holidays. The trouble is, a new family now lives there, and patriarch Tom Valco (James Gandolfini) is less than hospitable to the strange if well-dressed man he finds wandering around his yard. Valco changes his tune when Drew offers $250,000 for the privilege of staying with the Valco family and reliving some happier times. Valco's wife, Christine (Catherine O'Hara), and their son, Brian (Josh Zuckerman), agree to play along, though Brian has second thoughts when he's relegated to the garage ("When I become a serial killer, don't be surprised") and Drew tries to stage-manage the perfect family meal, complete with local actor (Bill Macy) playing the grandfatherly Doo-Dah. The craziness escalates when their adult daughter, Alicia (Christina Applegate), returns home for the holidays and refuses to play along. Affleck and Gandolfini have a nice comic chemistry, but Affleck's attempts to suggest childlike enthusiasm are, to put it kindly, quite odd. O'Hara brings perfect timing and her inimitable dry wit to the table and gives her usual fantastic performance, but child actor Zuckerman has most of the script's funniest lines. Unfortunately, a little more than halfway in, the belly laughs are suddenly elbowed aside in favor of decidedly depressing material. Once director Mike Mitchell brings in the incest jokes and allusions to middle-aged porn, the film gets sucked into a downward spiral from which it never recovers.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Just like many real-life holiday get-togethers with the family, this comedy starts out pleasantly enough but degenerates into awkwardness and furtive watch-checking to see how much longer you have to suffer before you can leave. Millionaire Chicago ad exec… (more)

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