What if there was a Christmas movie featuring alcohol and casual drug use that had a lot of swearing but wasn’t really that vulgar? Such a movie exists, and it was made in 2016. Office Christmas Party — a movie with a name that treats the “war on Christmas” as precisely the lie that everyone knows it to be — is that film. This is a party movie that’s raucous without being too raucous, that’s never truly morally compromised, and with very few repercussions for anyone involved in the festivities. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s funny without being overly so.
Zenotek’s Chicago branch has its Christmas party cancelled by interim CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston, Storks). The branch manager, her brother Clay (T.J. Miller, TV’s Silicon Valley), hatches a scheme with Josh Parker (Jason Bateman, Central Intelligence) and hacker extraordinaire Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn, X-Men: Apocalypse) to secure a $14m contract by showcasing their great corporate culture with a top secret Christmas party. Things go well until, inevitably, they do not.
Office Christmas Party is an amiable comedy filled with recognisable people from Saturday Night Live and a variety of critically acclaimed semi-mainstream comedy projects. A lazier movie would coast on the act of recognition alone, but fortunately the likes of Randall Park (TV’s Fresh Off the Boat) and Sam Richardson (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) are capable of heavy lifting, and screenwriters Justin Malen (TV’s Trophy Wife), Laura Solon (TV’s Hot in Cleveland) and Dan Mazer (Bridget Jones’s Baby) have provided a just substantive enough script that it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to find meat on a skeleton.
The laughs in Office Christmas Party are more character oriented rather than situational, which is odd given the film’s title. Regardless of the project she chooses, Kate McKinnon (Masterminds) inhabits her characters with an intensity unrivalled by most comedic actors, and this film is no exception. Miller has a quiet charm when he’s playing a goofball rather than a malign idiot — kind of the inverse of Bateman’s own career jerk/nice guy dichotomy — and, as an ensemble, everyone works well together. The party never actually goes as far as it could, no matter what you see in the copy room or the toilets, but the character work compensates.
To inject drama, Office Christmas Party very briefly flirts with the danger zone of third act gun fights that are often used to round off a comedy. As unhinged pimp Trina, Jillian Bell (Angry Birds) somehow grounds the excesses and unreality that would have otherwise informed the movie’s climax, and Miller lends an emotional core to what on paper is a deeply, deeply stupid sequence.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (TV’s The Power Inside) handle a large set with attention to the larger moving pieces but most of the escalation suggesting chaos happens offscreen and in between scenes. The ligaments of the film are more invisible than they should be, so that scenes that rely on the core cast are clear and concise, but anything else is fuzzier than one might like.
Office Christmas Party is a tightly wound and heavily calculated movie that possibly could have stood to be a bit looser than it turned out, but it is amiable enough. There’s nothing here to make for a Christmas classic, and you definitely won’t be cracking this one out in the years to come, but there’s just enough to last one night in December.
Office Christmas Party opened in Australian cinemas on December 8, 2016.
Directed by: Will Speck and Josh Gordon.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T. J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Jillian Bell and Jennifer Aniston.