There’s fun to be had in Office Christmas Party

by Steve Pulaski

Office Christmas Party is basically Project X and The Hangover merged together with the justification being that it’s time again to celebrate that festive holiday that starts early and never seems to end. To some, that might be a grave warning whereas other might find it faint praise. But let’s of course acknowledge that sector who has been waiting all year for something like this. In some sense, they have earned it.

In a year where American comedies have been very middling to lackluster, Office Christmas Party isn’t so much great as it is at least a halfway-decent showcase of familiar faces that likely provided you laughs in films gone past. Remember how strong T. J. Miller was to Deadpool and She’s Out of My League, or how fun and confident Jillian Bell presented herself in 22 Jump Street? Let us not forget how instrumental Kate McKinnon was to the formula and overall success of both the new Ghostbusters film and Masterminds this same year, all while she’s been adding life and pizzazz to Saturday Night Live, or how Rob Corddry can be dropped into any comic setting and make it work.

Office Christmas Party
Directed by
Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller
Release Date
9 December 2016
Steve’s Grade: C+

The great news is all these individuals get time to shine throughout the course of Office Christmas Party, and that at least detracts us from such commonplace leads like Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman (who are also good here, mind you). When a comedy comes along with this routine of a premise, you quietly hope something different will be brought to the table and at least this particular example dares to give screentime to those we laughed with/at in the past but never even bothered to learn their names.

The film revolves around a Chicago-based tech-company called Zenotek, which is on the verge of being closed following financial troubles when the patriarch of the Vanstone family dies. Interim CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) has to tried to keep the company afloat in the meantime, while her dim-witted, hard-partying brother Clay (T. J. Miller) continues to find ways to drain the company’s finances. Eventually, Carol tells Clay and his right-hand-man Josh (Jason Bateman) that the only foreseeable solution is layoffs, as well as cancelling the “non-denominational holiday party,” headed in part by Clay, Josh, and Human Resources Director Mary (Kate McKinnon), who is just a little offbeat. The only probable solution for the team is to close a $14 million deal from wealthy business/tech mogul Walter (Courtney B. Vance).

Without options, Clay, Josh, and Josh’s close-friend and coworker Tracey (Olivia Munn) decide to try and wow Walter by inviting him to the massive Christmas party they plan to hold in spite of Carol’s demands and grievances. The end-result is a liability nightmare, compounded by copious amounts of beer and liquor, live-reindeer, dangerous stunts, and a plethora of other hazards that prevail all in the name of trying to have a “good time.”

Things predictably escalate and the night rages on in subplots, like the evident romantic and sexual tension between Josh and Tracey, as well as another computer-science geek hiring an escort to pose as his girlfriend to impress his pals. Your response to Office Christmas Party will depend on how receptive you are to nonstop sequences of ill-advised, raucous partying that ends up getting numerous people hurt or injured, as well as how keen on you are being pummeled with jokes, some of which hitting and some of which dreadfully missing.

This kind of comic formula spawns this same result time-and-time again, but unlike Project X or even 21 & Over, two films I loathed, Office Christmas Party‘s narrative and reliance on the strengths of its cast kept me in-tuned most of the time. It does occur to a seasoned moviegoer more than once that they are essentially watching a highlight reel from other films of the same breed, but what keeps this film alive is its willingness to allow us the company of others whom we likely overlooked or didn’t pay much attention to in other mainstream films.

There’s fun to be had in Office Christmas Party, a different kind of fun if you’re not looking to be berated by the cynical and utterly miserable aura of Bad Santa 2. You’ll likely see familiar faces, you’ll relish in the fact that the film’s pace moves quick enough to make one-hundred minutes race past, and maybe you won’t even mind the blooper-reel or the cloying collage of images in true Hangover-fashion during the end credits. It’s all in good fun, and it’s a Christmas miracle I wasn’t as burdened with this film as much as some would assume.