Four Christmases
dir Seth Gordon
scr Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
with Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Carol Kane, Laura Johnson
release US/UK 26.Nov.08
08/US New Line 1h22
Four Christmases
A holiday to remember: Witherspoon and Vaughn

duvall steenburgen spacek
voight favreau chenowith
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Four Christmases While there are some hysterical sequences and plenty of astute family observations, this film is too fragmented to ever come together. Although terrific actors and some serious subtext make it enjoyable.

Brad and Kate (Vaughn and Witherspoon) are so happy couple that they never worry about taking their commitment to another level. And they certainly don't want to spend Christmas with their broken families. But when their holiday flight is grounded, they end up traipsing to the homes of all four parents--his (Duvall and Spacek) and hers (Steenburgen and Voight). And as they learn about each other's childhood, they begin to wonder how well they know each other. And whether they really belong together in the first place.

The film kicks off with a hilarious opening that promises snappy and outrageous ribaldry, then quickly settles back into Meet the Parents territory, gently embarrassing the central characters as they're thrown into childhood roles by parents and siblings. It's not exactly sophisticated or original, and it quickly wears thin--namely, the second time Favreau and McGraw, as Brad's meathead brothers, hurl him to the floor. While the choppy approach (four disparate sequences) makes it impossible to develop any comical momentum.

Instead, the filmmakers turn to drama, as Brad and Kate deal with genuinely tough relationship issues. The doughy Vaughn and gorgeous Witherspoon are much more effective in these scenes; we believe them more as intelligent, bickering lovers than as comical victims of ritual humiliation. Meanwhile, the Oscar winners playing their parents are superb, although their roles feel truncated (Duvall and Steenburgen get the most to do; Voight's barely in the film). And of the siblings, it's Chenowith's boob-a-licious turn as Kate's giddy sister that steals the show.

In the end, the filmmakers abandon any interesting comment on the selfishness of modern life, retreating to the usual stereotypes about the importance of family and children. The film feels like it's been badly tinkered with in the editing room, adding scenes to give a comical/emotional punch at a specific moment or to echo an earlier gag. The result is too constructed to be very funny, although it's always watchable thanks to the freakishly strong cast.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 19.Nov.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall