Every once in a while, it seems as though a movie comes along that seems like it was conceived entirely based on my predisposition of film tropes that I shouldn’t like, but do anyway. Shamelessly so, in fact.
Starting with a big-budget comedy, strung together by a series of semi-related sketches all built around an overarching theme — in this case, the titular office Christmas party. Throw in just about every noteworthy comic actor in the last eight years or so, and about a half-dozen scenes of characters walking gin slow-motion set to an ironic soundtrack and you’re fast closing in on whatever the cinematic equivalent to my fantasy football team would look like.
Yes, I realize that based on the handful of trailers out there this movie looks like some kind some kind of soulless effort cobbled together by studio execs with, in the words of my co-worker Danielle ‘Koop’ Houtkooper, a script written by a computer’s joke-telling algorithm.
And you know what? It might very well be all these things, but that didn’t stop me from the inevitable anticipation I felt when the film opened to a predictably mismatched hip-hop song. Nor I couldn’t help but chuckle at the opening shot of a depressing Christmas cake sitting out for a morning holiday party, done because “people don’t get drunk in the mornings,” according to a lawyer played by comedy gadfly Matt Walsh — the first of many such cameos, and each one of them welcome.
So, the plot revolves around T.J. Miller, who plays Clay Vanstone, the branch manager of a server company in Chicago, who’s also (wait for it) a well-meaning, lovable screwup. His sister, Carol, played by Jennifer Aniston, is the steely, soulless younger sister and CEO, who’s on a warpath to ruthlessly cutback on company spending, including (you guessed it) the big Christmas party Clay had planned.
With 40% of the company’s staff in jeopardy, Clay, along with his best friend/CTO Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and Systems Analyst Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) make a last-ditch effort to land a big-name client, Walter Scott (Courtney V. Vance), which would prevent Carol’s severe cutbacks. When their meeting doesn’t go particularly well, Clay makes one last ditch effort to impress him by inviting him to experience their company’s culture first hand at their Christmas party.
So, now that they’ve established that the Christmas party is 100% necessary to save the company itself (something I was completely on board with, by the way), Clay rallies everyone for the most ridiculously over-the-top, unhinged, and destructive soirees of all time. All while setting the stage for some high-stakes, but still hilarious, antics in the third act.
Even though Office Christmas Party never strays far from its paint-by-numbers approach, it keeps up its lighthearted swagger, which has some moments that flirt with exposition-heavy character development but never treads too far into self-seriousness. It’s the kind of film where everyone involved knew what kind of movie they were making, and decided to have the best time doing it.
While it’s reliable to the point that it’s entirely too predictable, watching a massive ensemble cast of black-belt-level comedians share the screen with one another brings a welcome, comforting addition to the holiday movie lexicon.
Office Christmas Party is now playing in theaters everywhere.