Editor’s Note: Office Christmas Party opens in wide theatrical release today, December 9, 2016.
In some cultures, celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays prematurely isn’t done. It’s considered bad form at best, bad luck at worst, tempting the Powers-That-Be to punish mortals for their arrogance and hubris. But we don’t live in one of those cultures. In America (south of Canada, north of Mexico), we proudly celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays prematurely all the time, especially when those anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays involve extreme commercialism (where the real deity isn’t supernatural, but purely financial). All that said, moviegoers shouldn’t be surprised to see Office Christmas Party, an R-rated, modestly raunchy, talent-wasting workplace comedy with a few, not-so-keen observations about the current state of capitalism, corporatism, and economic anxiety (the central explanation/excuse for why so many voters in swing states flocked to a faux-billionaire, reality-TV star, and eventual electoral college winner), arrive in multiplexes more than two weeks before the holiday of the title.
The comic riffs we do get in Office Christmas Party are generally of the tame, predictable kind, with the occasional attempt to push the R-rating into raunchy territory either landing with a soft thud or succeeding briefly before being discarded for safe, PG-13 comedy.
When we meet Office Christmas Party’s nominal protagonist, Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), Chief Technology Officer for Zenotek Data Storage Systems, he’s sitting in a lawyer’s office, signing the divorce papers that will make him both temporarily poor and semi-permanently single, but he’s less worried about his romantic future than the immediate and long-term future of Zenotek and the struggling Chicago branch headed by Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), the profligate son of the company’s late founder. More benevolent, anti-Trump frat-bro than hard-charging MBA type, Clay sees the Chicago branch as his family, an attitude that puts him at immediate odds with his older sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), the interim CEO. Where Clay sees people, she sees profit or rather the lack thereof, a situation she hopes to alleviate, if not outright eliminate, by firing a significant chunk of the Chicago office’s staff.
Carol’s anti-Christmas, pro-Scrooge POV makes her Office Christmas Party’s central villain, especially when she gives Clay an ultimatum: Close a potentially lucrative deal with Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) or figurative heads will roll. Clay’s response – a massive alcohol-fueled, all-night rager – plays into the “party” part of Office Christmas Party. He buys all the Bud and Bud Light his product placement budget will allow, hires real reindeers and actors to play the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus), and even borrows the throne from the Game of Thrones set or a reasonable facsimile so he can play drunk Santa. Nothing, of course, goes according to plan. Almost immediately, the party gets out of control, resulting in untold amounts of damage to the office and the personal lives of the central characters.
Office Christmas Party is an R-rated, modestly raunchy, talent-wasting workplace comedy with a few not-so-keen observations about the current state of capitalism, corporatism, and economic anxiety.
Office Christmas Party throws in an unconvincing, underwritten romance between Parker and his lead programmer/all-around tech genius, Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn). Tracey has ideas, big ideas, but Parker’s cautious, conservative approach blocks her at every turn. Still, she harbors a major crush on the newly divorced Parker, but the romance takes a back seat to the general “adults behaving badly” (R-Rated Edition) antics of Zenotek’s employees, including Nate (Karan Soni), a stereotypically dweeby IT guy whose bluff gets called when he’s forced to invite his non-existent girlfriend to the party by his co-workers. Instead, he hires a hooker, Savannah (Abbey Lee), with a predilection for making extra cash on the side, and a trigger-happy, psychopathic pimp, Trina (Jillian Bell). Another potential hook-up between Clay’s secretary/single mother, Allison (Vanessa Bayer), and Fred (Randall Park), a Zenotek accountant, gets weird when they step into Zenotek’s childcare center (and not always in a good way).
The comic riffs we do get in Office Christmas Party are generally of the tame, predictable kind, with the occasional attempt to push the R-rating into raunchy territory either landing with a soft thud or succeeding briefly before being discarded for safe, PG-13 comedy. Outside of the obligatory F-bombs and semi-naked employees getting intimate with the office photocopier and a 3D printing machine, boundaries aren’t exactly broken, let alone pushed as an R-rating would suggest. A handful of genuine laughs arrive courtesy of Kate McKinnon’s MPV performance as Mary, a super-uptight, authoritarian HR manager who predictably cuts loose as the night wears on, but who also proves to be remarkably resourceful when Clay’s naiveté lands him in trouble. Rob Corddry plays Mary’s office antagonist, a rule-flaunting rule-breaker who’s somehow managed to keep his job. No guesses as to where their relationship ends up before Office Christmas Party mercifully wraps up its major and minor storylines and the end credits roll.
Office Christmas Party may be R-rated, but its comic riffs are generally of the safe, PG-13 kind, with occasional forays into raunch. Despite both its talent and the opportunity to make insightful commentary, Office Christmas Party only offers up a handful of genuine laughs.