Past the Popcorn: Office Christmas Party is About as Much Fun as it Sounds

by Jeff Walls

Most people who work in an office environment know about office holiday parties.  They are often fun, sometimes stressful, and every once in awhile they can be embarrassing.  After all, people tend to let their inhibitions go a little when the alcohol starts flowing and they forget that they are partying with people whom they will have to see every single day after.  The holiday office tradition is taken to the comedic extreme in the new movie Office Christmas Party, which hopefully won’t have too many people leaving the theater thinking “that reminded me so much of my office.”

The office in question is the Chicago branch of a tech company run by Clay Vanstone, the son of the recently deceased CEO, and someone who has always been better at throwing parties than running a business.  When his sister as the newly appointed CEO comes for a visit and threatens to fire half of the staff, Clay and his Chief Technical Officer Josh Parker decide that they must throw an epic office party in order to win over a potential client.  The party starts small, but when the alcohol starts flowing and the cocaine snows down from the sky, the party very quickly gets out of hand.

T.J. Miller as Clay in Office Christmas PartyThe plot of Office Christmas Party is paper thin and clearly exists only as a reason to put a cast of funny actors in a room and let them improvise most of their dialogue.  It is easy to spot these movies, because the end credits almost always feature outtakes of the actors tossing out various versions of the same jokes in hopes that one will stick.  Sometimes they hit, sometimes they don’t.  There are plenty of laughs in this movie to keep an audience entertained for its 105 minute runtime, but few, if any, that will stick with you after you’ve walked out of the theater.  It does not help that despite there being plenty of debauchery throughout the movie, there are not really any moments that prove truly shocking, those moments you wish you could unsee even while you are laughing your head off.

As for the extensive cast, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston join forces for the fifth time in this movie, but unfortunately their characters feel very “been there, done that.”  At times, it is even easy to forget which movie we are watching and think instead that we walked into another Horrible Bosses movie.

The highlights in the cast are T.J. Miller as Clay and Kate McKinnon as the office’s overbearing HR lady Mary.  Miller, the star of HBO’s Silicon Valley, has terrific comedic timing and also plays the guy with good intentions who always manages to mess things up to perfection.  McKinnon’s performance gets even more enjoyable as the movie goes on and her character begins to shed her uptight shell.  Having now stolen the show in three different movies this year—Ghostbusters, Masterminds, and this—the Saturday Night Live phenom seems ready for a starring vehicle, something in which an original character she creates is given the spotlight a la Ace Ventura or Anchorman.  Perhaps the recently announced The Lunch Witch will be just the thing.

Office Christmas Party has some good laughs, but it is missing the heart of some of the best holiday comedies and the plot is far too thin to give the movie any real staying power.  Bottom line, it was fun, but not the most memorable of parties.

Moana is now playing at the Century Federal Way, AMC Southcenter 16, and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!

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