Saturday, November 29, 2008

Well Tonight Thank God It's Them Instead Of You

Four Christmases is a celebration. Oh, not a celebration of the holiday season, friends, family, values, laughter and the human spirit that the commercials are trying to make you think it is. Rather, this is a celebration of assholes. In fact, if this movie was all you had to go on, you'd think that big holiday in December should be renamed Christmasshole and, instead of a friendly, loving, jolly old fat man leaving toys for the kids, Santa would enter your home, drink all your liquor, watch porn on your pay-per-view and leave bones and stains from the hot wings he ate all over your living room. When you woke up in the morning, you'd say, "Aw man, Santa was here. What an asshole."

When the movie opens, we meet Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon). Brad and Kate are an asshole couple living in San Francisco who lie and tell their families that they are going to spend Christmas in Burma doing charity work so they can spend the holidays on a cruise in Fiji. They are, however, perfectly content and happy assholes. They have good jobs, an interesting and creative sex life (they are role playing in a bar when we first see them) and, most importantly, their negative views on marriage are in perfect sync. These are views that they are more than happy to share with random strangers so that said random strangers get depressed about their own marriages and jealous of Brad and Kate's blissful situation. They do this because that's what assholes do. Unfortunately for them, a news crew catches them just as their fligh to Fiji is delayed by fog. Their parents see them on TV and know that they are now free to visit them on Christmas which means they must make trips to four different households in one day (both sets of parents are divorced).

During the course of the movie, we learn the following things: Brad and Kate's status as assholes was something they apparently inherited, watching people being tormented in various ways by their families is at best only mildly amusing to watch and worst extremely painful to watch, and that days in San Francisco are 102 hours long. That's the only way to explain how they visited four different households, at least one of which was out in the woods, and spent several hours at each one all in one day.

One of the most interesting things I noticed (since the plot held little interest for me) was that all four of the parents were played by Oscar winners. Brad's father was played by Robert Duvall who, throughout his distinguished career, has played unforgettable roles in movies like The Godfather, The Great Santini, and Tender Mercies as well as the classic TV mini-series Lonesome Dove has now decided that he no longer wants the burden of being a legendary actor since in this movie playing an ignorant redneck who laughs when someone in his family does something abusive. I was expecting more from these scenes since Denver, one of Brad's brothers, was played by Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn's old partner from the movie Swingers. Instead, he and Brad's other brother, Dallas, both UFC fighters, literally beat Brad up every chance they get.

This might be a good time to point out that everyone in this movie acts like this is their first day on this planet and that they are unable to grasp concepts like tact, etiquette and boundaries. For instance, Kate got angry when Denver reveals that Brad's real name is Orlando and that he never told her that. However, her self-righteous anger is quickly neutralized when they visit Kate's mother (Mary Steenburgen) who cheerfully and without prodding reveals that Kate experimented with lesbianism when she was younger. I mean WHO THE HELL DOES THAT and, if you did do it, who the hell, upon doing such a thing, wouldn't immediately think, "Golly gee, maybe I shouldn't have just told her boyfriend that Kate may have once had sex with a girl"? I guess I'm wrong about that, though, since Kate's mom not only blurts all this out but even shows pictures from the family photo album of Kate with her girlfriend. Shows what I know.

For some reason, being exposed to everything she hates about domestic family life is causing Kate to modify the worldview she has cultivated all her life and to think that maybe having Brad marry her and knock her up would be awesome. This continues as they visit Brad's mom (Sissy Spacek), a woman who has recently started sleeping with a guy with whom Brad went to school. Katge doesn't understand why being confronted with something like that wouldn't make Brad more amenable to the idea of them starting a family of their own* so she breaks up with him before going to see her father (Jon Voight). Voight is and asshole because...well, let's see, he's actually the one sane, thoughtful and loving human being in the whole movie who graciously invite his ex-wife and her new boyfriend to Christmas dinner so that his granddaughter can spend the holiday with both her grandparents. Voight is the only one of the four Oscar winners and, for that matter, the only person in the movie to keep his dignity and not look like he showed up on the set because his huge paycheck cleared.

There are a few funny moments, like a Nativity play where, though unlikely circumstances, Brad and Kate end up playing Joseph and Mary (although even that glimmer of hope goes on too long) and a scene where Jon Favreau and his Southern redneck stereotype wife played by Katy Mixon win a board game in an amusing way that only people who've been married for a while and truly know everything about each other could have done but those add up to maybe 8 minutes in a two hour movie. Vince Vaughn does well in the movie's Vince Vaughn role, that being a character who, as I've said in other posts, believes that he's the smartest one in the room and behaves accordingly while also trying to hustle his way through life. Still, it can be amusing to watch and makes you think that the movies Vaughn stars in should be funnier.

At least the release of Four Christmases means that the mediocre family comedy that comes out every Christmas has been made and we can all now relax and wait for the mediocre remake of a classic science fiction film and the mediocre cartoon about mice.

Can't wait.

*I have mentioned that all these people are assholes, right?

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