Office Christmas Party
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Anniston, Courtney B. Vance
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use, graphic nudity
1 hr. 45 min.
Let us first be done with the clichés: “ ’Tis the Season, Make It a Cool Yule, Deck Your Halls, and Have a Very Merry.” Now that those have been unspooled, we can examine a pervasive trend among the studios that serves a growing portion of filmgoers: the lampooning, demystifying, desensitizing and shattering of the sentimental holiday façade, with racy, raucous comedies and popcorn-spewing laughs in place of pathos. This would be the aim of Office Christmas Party.
2015 saw The Night Before and Sisters assault the Cineplex. These were films that, in each script, had five-alarm ragers that went uproariously off the rails. This year, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck have made a movie with the plot itself centered on a no-holds-barred romp that makes the usual vomit-in-the-koi-pond party offenses look like tea and crumpets with Camilla Parker Bowles.
The story is compact and interesting enough. Jennifer Anniston (probably making Brad Pitt seriously reconsider his choices these days) plays Carol, a tech-firm CEO who threatens layoffs at the company’s Chicago branch, run by her gadfly, ne’er-do-well brother Clay. Wild man T.J. Miller, of Silicon Valley, is Clay, who, in defiance of Carol, decides to go ahead with the company Christmas party, while attempting to lure an important new client named Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). Company exec Josh (Jason Bateman) and IT hottie Tracey (Olivia Munn) do a courtship dance as they try to perfect some new software, and help land Davis and his $14 million account. This sets up a night that could well be called “Frosty the Snowman meets Caligula.” It’s that raunchy, that riotous, and downright stupefying in its blend of debauchery and sly humor.
It took an excess of five writers to pen Office Christmas Party, and an outstanding cast of comedic talents keeps the side-stories flowing as smoothly and strongly as the booze involved. All else, however, is ancillary to the bacchanal and subsequent bashes that pop up, as well as the short car chase that careens to a halt as if The Blues Brothers shared notes with Vin Diesel. In this flick, The Party is the star.
Some of the events that dazzle the eye, astonish the holiday sensibilities and result in spasms of guffaws: Vance, as Davis, the would-be client, straight-laced as they come, getting an accidental “snootful,” and literally spinning, then swinging, out of control; Kate McKinnon as Mary, the HR rep, directing all those interested in a hook-up to relocate from company property to the Rite Aid parking lot next door. She’s shone on Saturday Night Live this season, and is particularly on point in this film.
Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry and Jillian Bell are among the others who bring it, hard. All are on their game. It’s an intentionally fast-moving, over-the-top comedy ensemble that’s effective at poking holes in all that is sacred.
With Office Christmas Party and Bad Santa 2 in theaters, there’s enough anti-mush available to leaven the grumpiness of any Grinch. Were this politics, not motion pictures, there would be hours of remonstrating by TV talking heads, imagining, then decrying some perceived war on the holidays. In truth, it is Hollywood opening a vent for built-up steam, and making a lot of money at it. Nothing provides that like creating a movie party that would motivate Hef to have his grotto drained and cleaned.
Office Christmas Party is a wild, wild ride. The Christmas season, to paraphrase Dickens, takes a stake of holly right through the heart, again — yet survives, as meaningful as ever.