How to give you context for the ambiguously titled Office Christmas Party? Hmm, let’s see. Well, the opening credits is a Christmas Rap if that helps you.
Once upon a time, the office Christmas party was a highly anticipated tradition. An epic night of drinking and festivities that blurred the line between co-worker and friend, employer and employee. As a result of the aggressive hangovers, lawsuits, and weeks of awkward apologies, overzealous HR departments the world over have spent decades reigning in the wild and raucous office Christmas ragers until the once legendary celebrations evolved into the staid, polite and family friendly affairs that we know today. Office Christmas Party is a film celebrating the rebellion against what this yule-tide tradition has become.
Morale is at an all-time low at Zenotek’s Chicago office after their pragmatic Interim CEO, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston), announces plans to shut down their underperforming branch days before Christmas. Realising that no mere Christmas party can lift the spirits of his employees, eccentric branch president (and Carol’s kid brother) Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) enlists the help of Chief Technical Officer, Josh (Jason Bateman), and Lead Systems Engineer, Tracey (Olivia Munn), to make their own Christmas miracle by throwing an epic, unforgettably over-the-top Christmas party to win over a high profile client (Courtney B. Vance) and save everyone’s jobs.
Unfortunately, the A-list comedy cast (Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, and Rob Corddry also appear) fails to make it work here, seeming to play their shallow, way under-developed characters almost in total isolation of one another. There is no chemistry between any of the characters, which makes the “relationships” – both platonic and romantic – all the more forced. Even comedy powerhouses like T.J. Miller, Jason Bateman and Kate McKinnon, who are usually so effortless in their ability to bring the laughs, labour terribly under the predictable writing. There are a few passable jokes, but the script – and the film overall actually – feels rushed and reliant on the natural improvisation skills of the cast.
The one redeeming feature of this flick is that it seems like everyone had a hell of a lot of fun making it. And believe it or not, that’s important. Sure, there’s no real plot and there is no reason for these characters to do any of the things they do, but it is genuinely enjoyable to watch comedy all-stars muck around in front of a camera together for an hour and 45 mins, even if it is a lot like watching a really long episode of Saturday Night Live. Each scene feels like a vignette or sketch, and while this would be fine for television, it just doesn’t translate into the cinematic format.
That said, Office Christmas Party is vaguely relatable enough to sit through. Maybe it’s a film best accompanied by eggnog or Hot-buttered rum. And who knows? Maybe the jokes get funnier with seasonal bevos…