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Surviving Christmas
1/5
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Mike Mitchell
scr Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Jeffrey Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin
with Ben Affleck, Christina Applegate, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy, Jennifer Morrison, Udo Kier, David Selby, Stephanie Faracy, Stephen Root, Sy Richardson
release US 22.Oct.04, UK 3.Dec.04
DreamWorks
04/US 1h31

You better watch out: Gandofini and Affleck

affleck gandolfini applegate
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Surviving Christmas Ben Affleck needs a new agent. In a decent movie he's a strong actor (see Good Will Hunting or Changing Lanes), but someone's sending him all the wrong scripts (I won't mention Gigli). And this is easily the worst of the bunch.

Affleck plays Drew Latham, a millionaire ad man (or something) who refuses to settle down with his sparky girlfriend (Morrison). When she dumps him, he's left alone for Christmas. So he hires the family (Gandolfini, Ohara and Zuckerman) living in his childhood home to play his family for Christmas--for a mere quarter of a million dollars. Then their daughter (Applegate) arrives for the holidays and the kind of bickering usually associated with a rom-com breaks loose. Stir in a grandpa-for-hire (Macy) and we're off.

The premise has potential, as does the casting, but the script is so mind-numbingly lazy that it insults its audience at every turn. Mitchell (Deuce Bigalow) directs it as if it's the most madcap comedy ever made, and Affleck unfortunately buys into this approach, giving an over-the-top performance that's just too smiley and smirking for words. Not a bit of his character makes sense: Only people in movies live in cavernous loft flats like his. Nobody would actually hire a family if he was trying to reconnect with his past. Nobody would fall in love with the first antagonistic woman to cross his path, even if she looked like Christina Applegate!

Fortunately she's played by Applegate with a generous dose of subtlety and wit. While O'Hara is wonderful as a middle-aged wife who's lost her sense of self. Her makeover sequence is way overdone, but she plays it to perfection. Both of these women add the depth to their characters that the rest of the film lacks. Gandolfini is the only other actor who maintains his dignity, simply by underplaying what could have been a ridiculous character. But even these few bright sparks can't save this excruciatingly unfunny disaster, which might just be the most poorly written and directed film of the year.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 4.Nov.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Surviving Christmas Laurie T, Minneapolis: "So is Ben Affleck in another dud? And why does he keep getting movie parts if they keep flopping? We ended up seeing this because we wanted something light, not too serious, and something that would make us laugh - and because it started at the right time for our schedule for the night. That being said, we laughed - it IS silly, corny, predictable - but it was what we wanted - light, and it made us laugh. this may not be a classic, but it is better than Gigli." (3.Nov.04)
2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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