Is it childish, with adult humans acting like drunken, out-of-control teenagers? Naturally. Are the jokes cheap and tawdry? Oh, you know it. Is there destruction of property and perhaps even a few broken bones? Most decidedly. And is there the kind of overly sentimental dramatics that seem to be the staple of every Christmas-themed movie? Not as much as you’d think. But Office Christmas Party does have a soft, plush-bear-like heart in the form of T.J. Miller’s Clay Vanstone, whose Chicago branch of the family business is about to make massive cuts thanks to his dictatorial sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who happens to be CEO of the company. She has agreed that if Clay and his tech team of Josh and Tracey (Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn) can land a whale of a client, the branch will remain intact.
Oh. And Carol has also officially cancelled the office holiday party to save money, but Clay is having none of that. In fact, he invites a doubtful Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance, showing a very different side to his abilities in far more dramatic roles of the past) to see how employee friendly and tight knit his group really is. And that’s really all you need to know. What follows is a type of barely controlled chaos with a dozen or so talented comic actors doing their thing in various combination with varying results. The directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory, The Switch) do a nice enough job balancing the outlandish behavior, occasional nudity, and office vandalism with a warmer story about family—both the ones we’re born into and the ones we develop with co-workers that we often spend more time with in a given year than our blood relatives and significant others.
The supporting players do an impressive job lifting the goofball factor into the night sky, with particularly salty performances coming from SNL’s Kate McKinnon as the head of HR who organized the party but is also such a stickler for the rules that she is willing to report herself for any violations to office rules. Also providing amusing side-stories are McKinnon’s fellow SNL castmate Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Deadpool’s cab driver Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, and one of Neon Demon’s evil models, Abbey Lee. Most of the smaller dramas involve escorts, stolen cocaine, Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, hooking up with co-workers, photocopiers, drunken mayhem, and a live nativity scene.
The film loses a bit of its steam when it moves outside the office party and into a car chase under Chicago’s “L” tracks (if you’re going to do a car chase in the Windy City, that’s the place to do it), but the idea of sticking to the one office and systematically destroying it is much funnier. Not all of the gags land, but T.J. Miller has finally won me over (after being warmed up watching him on “Silicon Valley”) as a comic force who also has the ability to make me feel something. It’s slightly strange that Bateman and Munn—two highly likable actors—are given so little to actually contribute to the bigger story being told. Office Christmas Party is about as sharp as a marble, but it has a sizable heart and more than a few big laughs thanks to an eclectic group of actors. Hey, it’s a helluva lot funnier and more engaging than Bad Santa 2.
To read my exclusive interview with Office Christmas Party director Josh Gordon & Will Speck, go to Ain’t It Cool News.