Review of Four Christmases
Saturday, August 28, 2010 • 8:52am
Well, the holiday season is here again. But I'm afraid if you're looking for a satisfying Yuletide movie, Four Christmases isn't it. It's supposed to be a wacky and ultimately heartwarming comedy, but the laughs are scarce and the stabs at sentiment are contrived. There have been worse holiday films. (I, for one, wish that the live-action atrocity How the Grinch Stole Christmas was never made.) But Four Christmases is sufficiently dreary to spoil your Christmas cheer.
Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a happily unmarried couple. Both come from estranged families so they understandably don't want to commit themselves to matrimony. Every holiday season, they avoid the ordeal of visiting their dysfunctional relatives by traveling to an exotic faraway location. But this Christmas, their scheduled flight to Fiji is grounded due to a blinding fog. Even worse for them, their families catch them on television being interviewed about their ruined vacation.
So Brad and Kate have no choice but to visit each one of their divorced parents on Christmas, hence the film's title. The first parent is Brad's redneck father Howard (Robert Duvall) and his roughneck brothers (Tug McGraw and Jon Favreau.) Then the couple see Kate's mother Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), who has become a Born Again Christian because her current beau is a local preacher (Dwight Yokum). Then they're off to see Brad's mother Paula (Sissy Spacek), a hippy dippy ditz who's now romancing Brad's old high school friend. The last parent is Kate's father Creighton (Jon Voight). He has settled into a life of Norman Rockwell-like domesticity and he wants to reconcile with his daughter.
Vaughn and Witherspoon are supposed to be affectionate lovers who undergo trials and tribulations while making the obligatory holiday visits. But they're physically mismatched. Vaughn towers over Witherspoon and Reese's high heels can't camouflage this discrepancy. Their acting styles also clash- Vaughn frenetically hams it up while Witherspoon is icily reserved.
First time Hollywood feature film director Seth Gordon (he oversaw the acclaimed documentary King of Kong) is clearly on autopilot. Throughout much of the film, he subjects the audience to clunky slapstick. Some of it is downright cruel, such as when Kate accidentally slams Brad's baby niece's head against an open pantry door. Gordon also repeats some gimmicks that weren't amusing the first time around, such as someone suddenly getting punched.
Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, and Jon Voight- some of the most distinguished living thespians- are mostly wasted in the roles of the parents, trapped in broadly caricatured parts that give them little opportunity for depth or nuance. Voight is actually touching in his brief segment when he lectures Kate about the importance of family. Unfortunately, this tender scene doesn't jibe with the crude buffoonery that overwhelms most of the film.
Is there anything else to say about Four Christmases? Well, Kristin Chenoweth as Kate's child rearing sister does infuse her role with pixyish charm. And one of the executive producers, Peter Billingsley, who also cameos as ticket agent, starred in the delightful Yuletide comedy A Christmas Story. If only Four Christmases was one tenth as funny and heartwarming. Playing at Clearview's Beacon Hill Cinema 5 in Summit, it is rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.
Raymond Valinoti, Jr. is a librarian, freelance writer and researcher. He writes movie reviews for TheAlternativePress.com
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.