When upscale, happily unmarried San Francisco couple Kate and Brad find themselves socked in by fog on Christmas morning, their exotic vacation plans morph into the family-centric holiday they had, until now, gleefully avoided. Out of obligation--and unable to escape--they trudge to not one, not two, but four relative-choked festivities, increasingly mortified to find childhood fears raised, adolescent wounds reopened... and their very future together uncertain. As Brad counts the hours to when he can get away from their parents, step-parents, siblings and an assortment of nieces and nephews, Kate is starting to hear the ticking of a different kind of clock. And by the end of the day, she is beginning to wonder if their crazy families' choices are not so crazy after all... (from MovieWeb.com)
One of the toughest things about holidays can be getting together with family. This concept is known all too well by Brad and Kate, a couple who've been avoiding their families at Christmastime since they started dating three years ago. But when their usual escape plan to avoid the holiday hooplah crashes and burns, they're forced to visit the four families of each of their divorced parents all on one Christmas day. This is the premise behind 2008's Christmas comedy, Four Christmases.
Vince Vaughn returns for a second Christmas outing two years in a row with Four Christmases, having starred as the title character in last year's Fred Claus. While the humor in the latter film had to be kept a little more in control under its PG rating, Four Christmases is given a much more adult approach under its PG-13 umbrella. And since Surviving Christmas was the most backwards (and obscene) Christmas movie I've ever seen (I have not seen Bad Santa nor ever intend to), I held some high hopes for this particular Vince Vaughn / Reese Witherspoon vehicle. Sadly, the end result was only slightly better.
It's a little ironic that a Christmas movie about families could be hardly suitable for families to see. About half of the film's jokes are sexual in nature -- from an awkward oral sex joke to innuendos and breast-feeding gags, it's all done to make the audience feel the pain and discomfort that the central characters are feeling. However, it feels forced and over the top. Family holiday awkwardness is probably seldom related to sexual situations, so instead of the audience nodding their heads being able to relate, they're likely to groan at distasteful jokes. This approach to comedy never feels festive, which is probably why the film over-compensates by incorporating pieces of Christmas carols into its score, and by frequently having familiar songs playing in the background. Then, when the filmmakers take a jab at a charismatic church and their showy nativity play, it just feels like the movie sinks to a whole new level. It probably shouldn't surprise anyone for a Hollywood production to make fun of the church and Christians, but it seems especially odd to do it in a Christmas movie.
With that said, there is a mood shift towards the end of the film, where Four Christmases tries really hard to prove to the audience that somewhere underneath its profane surface, there exists a heart. The mood change doesn't feel very organic - almost as if they only do it because they feel they have to, but it probably explains why our main characters are written as dating and living together and not married yet. The first scene involves Brad and Kate roleplaying at a bar just for pleasure, and end up making out in public before it cuts to them walking out of a unisex bathroom together... not exactly what you'd expect to see in a Christmas movie (let alone its opening scene). We soon discover they did it all just for fun and that they live together - but aren't married - and even have a severely negative view of marriage. Maybe the insanely dysfunctional characteristics of both of their families is supposed to explain this, but it, again, it removes any classic holiday feel from the story. But this also makes it pliable for the filmmakers to separate the two of them at some point in that good ole' romantic comedy formula fashion. In the end, however (and after an oddly heartfelt grace prayer at the dinner table), there's a great deal of emphasis placed on family and having children - when almost everything we see before it feels like a protest against both.
So, as I've eluded to, the content is more on the heavy PG-13 side. Seems like everybody uses profanity, even the young children, while sex is something the characters aren't afraid of talking openly and flippantly about. Discretion and modesty seems to be far from everyone's minds, and as usual, the Christians in the film aren't painted in a very good light (I'll admit, that can be warranted sometimes, but I still hate seeing it portrayed in entertainment as such -- and in a film about a holiday that's based around Christ's birth, no less). There was a lot of potential for Four Christmases to be the kind of Christmas movie you'd want to revisit each season, based on its unique premise, but instead the movie goes for cheap laughs which aren't even that funny most of the time. It's appreciated that the film does even try at heart before the credits roll (and reinforce that the pursuit of a healthy family environment, despite your upbringing, is worth the effort), but I'm afraid it's a lost effort.
If you're looking for the perfect holiday comedy this Christmas season, you won't find it in Four Christmases. It's too vulgar to be a family film or a classic. It may have a couple good moments, but all in all, let's hope Hollywood won't keep making messes like this one. Skip this one and stay at home, out of the cold, and watch a real Christmas movie.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/6/08)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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