Surviving Christmas

The thing about Ben Affleck is that he's not that bad of an actor. He's not a great actor, he just needs the right script and right director. He cannot have anything requiring too much emotion, since this is not his strong point. The one thing that Affleck needs to do immeidately is pick better movies. The fact that many of his films are bad does help him at all. It draws attention to the fact that he is not that great of an actor, and makes him an extremely easy target for derision. Surviving Christmas is a prime example of this. For the bulk of the film, Affleck does okay, because he plays a jerk. Once the third act begins, he undergoes an Ebenezer Scrooge-like change for the better, and he does not do as well. But overall, the film is just not up to par.

Surviving Christmas falls into the stereotypical movie where the spirit of Christmas overcomes all and redeems a sad soul. In and of itself, this is typically a nice heartwarming movie. However, the concept here is so bizarre and executed so lamely that the adjective "surviving" applies not only to the film, but to those watching it. Affleck (Jersey Girl, Paycheck) is Drew Latham, a rich, cocky, SOB who just got dumped by his girlfriend Missy (Jennifer Morrison, Grind, Urban Legends: Final Cut). Drew wanted to spend Christmas in Fiji, while Missy wanted to spend time with her family. She's perturbed that Drew has yet to introduce her to his family, and storms out, believing that Drew doesn't take her seriously. This throws him into a funk, and a lame set of circumstances lands him at the Valco household. After some more contrivances, the Valcos agree to let Drew hire them for $250,000 as his pretend family, so he can spend Christmas like the rest of the world.

Everything feels so forced, and very little is funny. A big clue is that the screenwriting credits go to Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (Josie and the Pussycats, Viva Rock Vegas) and Jeffrey Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin. Four credited screenwriters is not a good sign, and Surviving Christmas follows through on this bad omen. Things are just not funny. It plays like a worn-out sitcom, which makes sense because Ventimilia and Sternin have a background as sitcom writers. Mike Mitchell (Herd, Deuce Bigalow) gives some aimless direction, and tries to fix things by throwing in some more characters every times things get dull. This means that by the end, there are tons of characters running around.

Drew easily annoys Tom Valco (James Gandolfini, The Last Castle, The Man Who Wasn't There), who puts up with him only for the monetary gain. Drew just bribes Tom every time he wants something more. Tom's wife Christine (Catherine O'Hara, A Mighty Wind, Orange County) is much more accommodating, and their son Brian (Josh Zuckerman, Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Myersons) is less than a blip on the radar screen. Things go okay until their daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate, Anchorman, Grand Theft Parsons) shows up. Drew doesn't have a sister, so he doesn't want her there. They clearly despise each other, which means that at some point they need to fall in love, and then Drew's old persona will appear, mess up their relationship, then it will repair itself by the end of the film. Gandolfini and O'Hara are better actors than this. Heck, Applegate is slowly showing that she's a decent actor, and she's better than this. Even Affleck is can do better than this. But not by much.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 31 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, and a brief drug reference.

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