For a movie that makes such an effort to poke fun at lame corporate office culture, it’s almost ironic how Office Christmas Party manages to throw a party that’s equally as dull. It’s a movie based on a simple premise (i.e., an out-of-control office party) with a seasoned cast of comedians at its disposal, yet it somehow stumbles all over itself. It reminds me of the most recent season of SNL. It has all of the right elements to succeed, but it has no idea how to utilize them.
So here’s the story…Clay (T.J. Miller) runs ZenoTek, the Chicago branch of his late father’s tech company. His sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), is the company’s interim CEO and has been shutting down branches across the country that aren’t profiting. When Carol says she plans to shut down Clay’s branch, Chief Technical Officer Josh (Jason Bateman) and Lead Engineer Tracey (Olivia Munn) plot to land big client Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), which will save the branch. Unfortunately, that plan requires showing Walter a good time at their previously cancelled “nondenominational holiday party.” Spending what little money Clay has left from his trust fund, they throw a Christmas party where everything gets out of hand. It’s then up to them to clean up the mess while also saving the branch.
On paper, I’m sure the story sounded great. In execution, it’s shit. It doesn’t give any of the characters a dimension beyond their one-note jokes—the divorcee, the trust-fund frat bro, the hot hacker, the single mom secretary, the uptight HR lady, the bitchy boss, the nerd with a fake girlfriend, etc. And the whole “save the company” plot actually took away from what could’ve been a much wilder party.
It doesn’t help that Office Christmas Party had six writers. A typical movie has two, maybe three, behind its story and screenplay. This had SIX. It makes sense, too, because you get the feeling you’re watching six different people’s ideas compete for attention.
Now, I’m sure some of you are reading this thinking “Who cares about the story?” And you make a great point. A comedy doesn’t need a perfect story in order to be fun, but it does have to provide you something else worthwhile. Laughs. If you’re going to half-ass the story, then you better whole-ass the goddamn jokes. Guess what? Office Christmas Party half-assed both the story and the jokes.
It tried to force a nice holiday story with a naughty party story and failed to deliver on both fronts. It didn’t have enough backstory for its characters to justify the heartfelt story, and it played too safe with its comedy to be a true R-rated romp (Think jokes that would’ve been funny and shocking in 2006). So, yeah, it’s two hours of meh when it could’ve been a more concise, more hilarious 75 minutes.
I’m not saying it doesn’t have its moments. There are a few scenes featuring Kate McKinnon (as the uptight HR lady), Jillian Bell (as a quick-tempered pimp), and Fortune Feimster (as an obnoxious Uber driver) that feel like they could stand on their own as comedy sketches. But beyond that, it’s not the laugh-out-loud riot the movie’s marketing promised us. Maybe just pass on this one.
Office Christmas Party: C
Listen to my review of Office Christmas Party on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 30:53).