In Mike Mitchell's Surviving Christmas (Opens nationwide Oct. 22th) Ben Affleck plays Drew Latham, a successful, shallow Chicago advertising executive who finds himself sad and lonely as the Holidays approach. When he visits his childhood home to exorcise demons of Christmas past, he offers the family currently living there $250,000 to faithfully recreate for him a Merry Christmas that he has never enjoyed. Because the plot sounds like the basis for Fox's next foray into reality show programming, I am going to offer up a survival guide based on what I learned from watching the film - just in case you end up a contestant on this spin-off.
1. Ditch Scary Mask and Candy for White Beard and Gingerbread Men: Surviving Christmas is being released a week before Halloween, which is like breaking out fireworks and those red, white and blue ice pops at Thanksgiving Dinner. The point is, they're both bad ideas and may lead to nausea and heart attacks.
2. Use A Map, Any Map: I don't know where Ben Affleck's career is going and it doesn't seem like he does either, so a map may help you find the answer. In this film, his character is so juvenile, annoying and irksome that nowhere does he buy the emotional payoff that comes at the end; nor does he show any capacity for emotion period besides the kind of cutesy, self-serving smugness usually associated with used car salesmen. He does have a few laughs though, and some even seem ad-libbed (more of a comment on the script, then his performance). Hopefully your map leads him to a smaller, juicier, edgier role in an indie film by a credible director a la Tom Cruise in Magnolia.
3. Rely on the fairer sex: The female leads in the movie, Catherine O'Hara and Christina Applegate, are two of the few bright spots. O'Hara, a veteran comedian, plays Christine Valco, downtrodden suburban wife and mother of the "rented" family. She brings some wit and eccentricity to the role, best exemplified by her performance in a scene in which the family is forced to have a scripted, more pleasant than normal, dinner discussion. Applegate plays Alicia Valco, the elder daughter and obviously-eventual love interest for Latham (Affleck). She is at her witty, breath-of-fresh-air-best early on when she is at odds with Latham (and the rest of her family) for his idiocy and the general stupidity of the entire charade.
4. Be Original. Think Outside Of the Box: Unfortunately, the 164 credited screenwriters (there were actually only 4 - never a good thing) do not heed this advice. The film is littered with stale jokes. For example, a bit where involving the introduction of the "understudy" of the actor hired by Latham to play the family's grandfather can be seen a mile away - by a blind guy in the dark. It seems the filmmakers were going for the kind of tasteless humor that made Bad Santa a good Holiday yarn; instead they've concocted a low-carb, low-fat diet substitute - barely. And for the love of the guy born on Christmas, is it possible to make a Holiday film that does not include the song "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," especially if its being used as part of an ironic hardy-har-har montage sequence? Is it? Please? Pretty please? While in reality that song may not be as overused as claimed, it is a commentary on the quality of the film when it feels over-cliched.
Christmas films can be dicey; Christmas reality shows based on Christmas films can be even dicier, so I hope this helps. By the way, since you have read this far, you are hereby legally bound to split any winnings you get for being Fox's "Surviving Christmas" reality spin-off. Don't hate me, hate capitalism. Now if only I could get an MP3 of the jungle-yell that opens "Survivor."