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Office Christmas Party Review: This Party Leaves You Wanting A Lot More

By  · Published on December 8th, 2016

Office Christmas Party Leaves You Wanting A Lot More

This Hangover-ish over-the-top comedy doesn’t seem quite over-the-top enough.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year now that studios have begun opening their big awards season players one after another. And Office Christmas Party… not one of them. This notoriously crass film is instead your liberation from all that well-written, beautiful, brainy, must-see, highbrow stuff. OK, this might at first glance sound like a heartless dismissal of this seasonal comedy from co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck. But it really isn’t. Instead, call it a genuine disappointment of someone who doesn’t mind ensemble comedies with plenty of debauchery and had hoped for a little soul and suspense in the vein of The Hangover from a flick starring some legitimately funny actors. I realize, one sometimes does need a healthy dose of ridiculousness that does not require putting too many brain cells to work (and oh boy, is that not the right time for that?) And while you might find exactly that in Office Christmas Party, its bloated, inconsistent laughs might get to your nerves eventually, like they did to mine.

But in fairness and as rare as they are, there are times when those laughs are effective. Especially when they involve Chicago-based tech company Zenotek’s uptight, uncompromisingly politically correct HR persona Mary (the one and only Kate McKinnon), who firmly reminds everyone that the party in question is in fact a “non-denominational holiday mixer.” (Billion dollar idea: a feature length film starring Kate McKinnon only, where she wears bad sweaters and pulls a thousand different faces.) Though whatever they decide to call it, things aren’t looking up for Zenotek. Its interim CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston, in a role that is a bit “her Horrible Bosses character meets Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly”) is threatening to close down the company’s under-performing Chicago branch, ran by her irresponsible brother Clay; a party animal with a heart of gold. Right before hopping on a plane to London, she coldly cancels the annual festivities and casually breaks the news to one of her department heads (Josh, played by Jason Bateman) that she’ll move him to the New York office after the branch closes down. But he’d have to leave behind his partner in crime Tracey (Olivia Munn), who seems like the smartest person in this dysfunctional firm and happens to be just days away from inventing the next big thing after internet: free internet for all.

Surely, Josh, Tracey and Clay have no intentions to make it so easy for Carol. In order to impress a potential prospective Client named Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) and save everyone’s jobs, they decide to put the party back in action and turn it into the most epic bash the firm has ever known. If only it were that easy. Tormented by his colleagues on a daily basis, Nate from IT (Karan Soni) decides to hire an escort named Savannah (Abbey Lee), who unfortunately comes with a sidekick: the outrageous pimp Trina (Jillian Bell) with disconcerting mood swings. Lots of alcohol and plenty of suspicious eggnog later, things get just a little out of hand. By that, you should assume the entire company gets completely trashed, leaving a much larger problem in their hands than discovering that Walter might not quite be the savior that they need.

The most frustrating aspect of Office Christmas Party is its plain predictability. Often, it proceeds like going down a check list of stale jokes (dutifully nodding, though not quite successfully, to feminism and diversity from time to time). All characters feel like parodies of people we’re used to seeing in comedies cut from the same cloth. As the party grows wilder and more over-the-top, you sorely realize it still doesn’t push the envelope far enough. (It is a problem when your mind starts wondering off to a holiday episode of “Mad Men” and you start thinking that office party seemed a lot more outrageous.) Should it be absolutely dismissed and avoided? Definitely not. The talent on display gleefully makes up for some of the film’s crimes. And depending on what industry you work in, you’ll probably still have more fun watching Office Christmas Party than attending your own company’s holiday party. Sadly, that isn’t saying much.

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Freelance writer and film critic based in New York. Bylines at Film Journal, Time Out NY, Movie Mezzanine, Indiewire, and others.