Premise (In case it wasn't clear already)
Office Christmas Party is an ensemble comedy, and is directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who previously worked together on Blades of Glory and The Switch. The film stars Jason Bateman as Josh, a manager of a tech company, whose boss Clay (played by T.J. Miller) comes under pressure as his CEO sister Carol (played by Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down his office branch unless they can close a huge deal on a big-name company. Incidentally, Clay and Josh are due to meet Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), the owner of a powerful company later that day, and Clay becomes convinced that they must throw an epic office Christmas party (duh) in order to show Mr. Davis that they’re a cool, caring company that’s worth doing business with.
What follows is an attempt at a Project X-style party (at least, that's what they hope) with well-known, middle-aged Hollywood faces, T.J. Miller being T.J. Miller, and a high-rise office building replacing a suburban house. Blades of Glory was one of those over the top, crazy comedies which wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but was still a great watch with friends who just wanted to sit down, stuff themselves with snacks and have a great time laughing with you. And although I didn’t see the Switch, I was curious to see if Gordon & Speck could recreate that fun, hilarious atmosphere. Would they studio execs be holding an office Christmas party of their own?
Probably not, unfortunately. While the star-studded cast do try, Office Christmas Party was, quite frankly, a little boring. T.J. Miller plays the exact same character he plays in every other film, a nasal, corner-of-the-mouth, comic relief of a comic relief. But having said that, he’s easily the best part of a film whose other main characters lack just that, character. Miller brings the personality and energy that the film itself seems to be desperately crying out for. But what do you expect from a premise in which working class, office folk who are stereotypically uptight and rigid are encouraged to let loose just for one night? Apparently, the answer is a painfully slow and unfunny buildup to the party, where setting the gears of the narrative in motion takes up the entire first act of the film.
The Party's Not Dead!
Once the party actually starts, some degree of entertainment does start to kick in. You see characters going wild, getting drunk, and getting involved in all sorts of shenanigans spearheaded by T.J. Miller’s Clay. We see the characters actually having fun with their roles, as if forgetting for a moment that they’re in a not-so-fun movie. Kate McKinnon’s rule-abiding, safety-conscious HR lady Mary has a memorable (although somewhat rushed) character turn, and gives a solid performance fresh off her Emmy win. There is also one shockingly funny scene involving Jennifer Aniston and a little girl, which just cracked the theater up into roars of laughter.
Party like your job depends on it…or don’t.
Sadly, the observant reader would note that one funny scene was just mentioned. One. And that’s probably Office Christmas Party’s biggest crime. It’s simply not very funny, nor does it ever reach a height of fun that we would expect from a film whose main focus is a huge party. In that way, the film disappoints on so many levels, made worse by the talent involved. Bateman, Aniston and Olivia Munn’s character Tracey are fairly bland, and not even talent from Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park and Karan Soni (of Deadpool fame) can elevate the film from the deep recess of non-humour. Where a wild, over-the-top, bonkers story was expected, the film sometimes feels as if it’s taking the safe route, even if the scene is, visually, perfectly set up for some even crazier antics. This all culminates into a finale that really, doesn’t quite fit with the film’s title. And the conclusion, while stimulating the ‘oh, that fits’ part of your brain, quickly feels cheap and shoehorned in just to give a certain character a purpose, while attempting to make you feel all warm and nice inside. Can’t blame them for that, though. It’s Christmas, after all!
While the film itself probably won’t make it to any top 10 list of 2016, it’s fair to say that Office Christmas Party is a harmless experience unless you paid an unreasonable amount of money to see it on opening night. Having shot itself in the foot from the very beginning with a lukewarm screenplay, it does have some redeemable qualities such as T.J. Miller and Kate McKinnon doing what they do best. At the end of the day, the Christmas season might belong not to the heartfelt, family-friendly comedies (which this film certainly is not), but to a small group of rebel fighters who are inevitably about to meet their end (what a jolly Christmas!), or a down-on-his-luck jazz pianist and his love for an aspiring actress. While the former is almost certainly a box-office hit, and the latter a critical success, it’s difficult for this unintelligent film-lover to see Office Christmas Party belonging to either of those categories.
Overall Score: 5.2/10