Making the Grades
It is difficult to believe someone as ridiculous as Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) would have a quarter-million to spend on a sentimental whim, even if he is an advertising executive. Yet that's exactly what we're supposed to buy into when this lonely only child appears on the doorstep of the Valco family, who now live in the home where he grew up. Mysterious about his lack of kin, and ditched by his girlfriend because she wanted a family Yuletide instead of a vacation to Fiji, the wayward soul decides to purchase a reenactment of his childhood Christmas.
Hey, I'm a lonely only child too -- but don't think I'm going to fork over $250,000 to share your turkey. And given a chunk of change like Drew's, I'd head as far away as possible from the Valco's.
Unbeknownst to Drew, this clan is facing a pack of problems, which accounts for the grumpy countenance of the father. At first, Tom Valco (James Gandolfini) is ready to slam the door on Drew, but his heart immediately warms to the offer of cold cash. His wife Christine (Catherine O'Hara) has some hesitations, and their teen son Brian (Josh Zuckerman) is infuriated at having to give up his room for a few nights-especially because it will make looking at Internet porn far more difficult.
After everyone signs the legal papers, Drew begins his trip down memory lane with a visit to the Christmas tree store. Decking "Dad" Valco in a Santa hat is only the beginning of the many modifications this dysfunctional group will need to make in order to survive Christmas... and avoid a breach of contract. A hired grandfather (Bill Macy) and the Valco's angered daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) also appear on the scene, which is anything but a picture print by Currier and Ives.
Surviving Christmas has me convinced there's a new genre of films for the festive season, ushered in by last year's R-rated Bad Santa and Love Actually. It's the cynical Christmas movie, in which we no longer have to put up with fanciful tales of angels ringing bells, miracles on New York streets, or any other such mush.
To be fair, this PG-13 flick isn't nearly as bad as Bad Santa. However, the best way to describe it may be by imagining It's A Wonderful Life redone as a reality TV show, where the wannabe George Bailey is given four days time to convince a woman that he's really her son, while paying to live in her house for the holidays.
Although there are some funny moments during the first half-hour, parents who come expecting Christmas cheer may feel like they're sitting on pine needles--especially when profanities and other content begin to fly. Brian's obsession with pornography and his parent's apparent inability to do anything about it are often played for laughs, as is sexual innuendo, drug use, attempted suicide, and vague references to incest. In spite of a feeble attempt at a heartwarming (and improbable) conclusion, there's just not enough charm here to survive this movie's sarcastic "Ho Ho Ho."
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Surviving Christmas.
While the situation presented in this movie is unlikely to ever happen in reality, have you considered what your family is worth to you? What can you do, as an individual, to help improve these relationships?
Recently, many movies have presented Christmas as a stressful and aggravating season. Do you think this reflects the way we view the holiday in reality? If so, what can you do to create a Christmas that is more in keeping with the original intentions of this celebration?