By Christian DiMartino
Four Christmases has an interesting reputation. When it was released, it was pretty much trashed by critics, but it made a lot of money. As time has gone on, I have also come across a lot of people who genuinely enjoy it, while also keeping in mind that the movie still probably has its haters out there. Last night, I watched the movie for the first time in 11 years. Not much could really be said of how I felt 11 years ago, but seeing as so much time had passed, it mustn’t had left an impression.
So after revisiting it after all of this time, Four Christmases is… not bad. It’s actually, from time to time, genuinely funny, and it features to pretty likable actors, Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, appearing to have a good time. Witherspoon maybe less so- despite her Oscar, she sometimes doesn’t choose the right role. Yet even if she wasn’t having a good time, she is still enjoyable here. If there is an issue with Four Christmases, it’s that it gets some of the little stuff right, and the big stuff wrong. Some of the big laughs here left me either irritated or uncomfortable, but also with that discomfort and irritation also came a laugh. So… ?
Vaughn and Witherspoon play Brad and Kate, who appear to be pretty in love, but neither have any interest in marriage or children, after seeing their parents’ marriages crash and burn. These two are so over the constitution of family that every year for Christmas, they lie to their parents about doing charity work, and fly off somewhere exotic. This year, it is to be Fiji. That all goes very south though whenever they arrive at the airport, and all of the flights are cancelled. To make matters worse, they are on the news whenever they make this discovery, and thus they are exposed for their lie.
So then they are forced to attend all four of their parents’ Christmases. This is, essentially the rest of the movie, as we see Brad and Kate travel from home to home, where secrets of their past are exposed and the two of them discover truths about themselves. They also reach the agreement that if either of them feel uncomfortable at any given time, they are to say “mistletoe” as a safe word. It is also worth mentioning that their parents happen to all be played by Oscar winners, so they didn’t hold back here. Here’s a rundown of each house:
- Robert Duvall is Brad’s dad, and Brad’s brothers (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw) are a pair of trailer park MMA fighters. There are funny elements within this sequence; what doesn’t work as well is the two brothers, who attack the hell out of Brad from the second he walks in the door.
- Mary Steenburgen is Kate’s mom, a cougar currently dating a ridiculous pastor. Here it is revealed that Kate is not only traumatized from an incident in a bouncy house, but she also used to be a fat lesbian. A sequence set in yet another bouncy house doesn’t work at first, but pays off well enough. Following this is a church performance of the birth of Jesus, which is kinda funny.
- Sissy Spacek is Brad’s mom, who is currently dating Brad’s ex-best friend. This is, far and away, the best segment of the movie. Consistently and thoroughly funny, not just because of certain scenarios at play but also because it’s not quite as in-your-face as the others, and also Vaughn’s delivery is very on point.
- Lastly, Jon Voight is Kate’s dad. The movie, I suppose, ran out of gas by this point, because there isn’t anything particularly interesting or funny here, but the movie does shift its focus a bit.
It seems like year after year, I find myself watching the same Christmas movies over and over again (hence why a movie like Carol received its day). So it was good to give Four Christmases another go. It’s not quite a great comedy, and some of it isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Yet what does work here works well enough to get by.
P.S. Merry Christmas