New Line Cinema
Release Date: November 26, 2008
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, Kristin Chenoweth
By Sean Chavel
If you’re cynical like the average critic, you might be bracing yourself with the anticipation that we have reached that time of year again for the annual really-bad-Christmas-movie to run at multiplexes everywhere. Every year the Christmas movie is not a blessing, it’s a curse. The kind that would never get endorsed by jolly old Santa. (Anybody ever remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger fiasco that asserted that consumerist shopping takes precedence to Christmas carols and family togetherness? I don’t remember the title offhand either.) "Four Christmases," this one starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn, is surprisingly not all that bad considering its brand genre. Although the film is inevitably hampered by sitcom-level clichés, its two leads behave more real than the standard holiday-movie cardboard characters.
You might have seen the set-up in the commercials. Vince and Reese are lovebirds en route to Fiji for the holidays until they are unfortunately saddled with the obligation to attend four family parties, all separated due to parental divorce. Vince and Reese avoid attendance every year because they hate their families. It’s easy to see why – their families are cut out of Jerry Springer hell.
What is reasonably laudable about the movie is that the Vince and Reese characters, Brad and Kate, are professionally accomplished and intelligently spoken adults that outclass everyone within their own families. Brad and Kate don’t deserve the torment from their brothers and sisters. They don’t deserve the constant gratuitous criticism they get from their mom and pop. They do their best to keep the peace within families that are in turmoil with perpetual superficial drama.
On the other hand, it is kind of difficult to believe that Brad and Kate were spawned from these ghastly families. Robert Duvall, as Brad’s natural dad, is a beer-swilling chauvinist who approves of his grandchildren fighting each other like tackling dummies. Sissy Spacek, as Brad’s mom, is now sleeping with Brad’s childhood friend. Jon Voight, as Kate’s natural dad, is taciturn but seized with personal regret. Mary Steenburgen, as Kate’s mom, wears white formal buttoned-suits and zealously attends Christian church but sounds as if she’s promiscuous with the rest of her spare time.
Brad and Kate are in a full-time Christmas Day bluster, going from one grumbling visit to the next while trying to remain poised. The movie, as suggested before, has its shares of sitcom writing. But sometimes plug-in formula scenarios can be bliss, because it’s irresistibly curious to watch actors like Vince and Reese play characters that have to repeatedly squirm out of embarrassing situations. As you might have gathered, this is more of an adult entertainment than a young child’s Christmas movie. The little ones should stay home and watch “Elf,” the only truly cool Christmas movie in ages.