Overview: A gang of corporate misfits and wannabe executives come together to throw the office holiday party to end all office holiday parties. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 105 minutes.
Who’s Been Naughty: Sporadic studio comedy filmmakers Josh Gordon and Will Speck have come together for the third time to offer a feature film that aims to please general movie-going audiences. Office Christmas Party stars second-time lead performers Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston–who previously co-starred in Gordon and Speck’s unfortunately under-seen sophomore effort The Switch in 2010–who portray dueling executives of a national tech company facing the imminent closing of its flagship Chicago branch. Enter T.J. Miller as Aniston’s reckless, but earnest, brother and local branch manager of their late father’s company, and you have the perfect recipe for a comedy of errors.
Hoping to win the love and affection of his employees, Miller plans to throw an extravagant Christmas party, until his sister’s stringent efforts temporarily put an end to any frivolous expenses. But when the stability of his entire staff is threatened with termination, and an ultimatum for securing a crucial client is offered as the only means for saving their jobs, the party is back on. The rest of the movie is predictably ill mannered, uncouth, and unrepentantly naughty. A parade of inebriated revelers soon take up prime residence in the upper stories of a metropolitan skyscraper, though their lurid antics never quite feel as illicit, racy, or shocking when stacked up against the likes of several like-minded adult comedies from this past year alone.
Who’s Been Nice: The extent to which Gordon and Speck play the entire film by the numbers in Office Christmas Party is mildly disappointing. While they might be more well known for their thematically adjacent directorial debut sports comedy Blades of Glory from 2007, The Switch appeared to show the duo being more inclined towards the kind of romantic comedy previously perfected by the late Nora Ephron. In The Switch, Bateman and Aniston make the perfect reluctant couple who whimsically find one another after years of celibate friendship, and Gordon and Speck direct their courtship with decided restraint despite the film’s inherently reassuring cliches.
In that light, Office Christmas Party feels like a step back. At the heart of the movie’s narrative is a universally felt desire for reconciliation, but surrounding that is all of the trappings of some of the very worst studio comedy pitfalls made popular by the likes of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in recent years. Gordon and Speck, instead of exploring the bits and pieces of emotional honesty that they previously attempted, have found themselves back in the lap of provocation and sophomoric luxury that won them initial notice. It’s not to say that Office Christmas Party is especially poorly conceived–far from it based on the uproarious laughter and remarkably well-attended debut weekend screening that I attended–but more that it’s courtship of shock value over sentimentality is a bit of a let down overall for those looking for more than an R-rated Christmas episode of The Office.
Overall: Co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck have always fallen back on narrative cliches and comfortably scripted comedy beats in the past, and Office Christmas Party is no exception.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures