Movie Review: "Office Christmas Party"

The more I watch Kate McKinnon on television and in movies, the more convinced I am that she is going to be here making people laugh for years to come (and the happier I am about that fact, too). She seems to throw herself into her roles with a singular devotion, committing to every part no matter how ridiculous it might seem. This is certainly the case with the otherwise completely forgettable “Office Christmas Party.”

Directed by Will Speck & Josh Gordon, “Office Christmas Party” is the tale of the members of the Chicago branch of Zenotek, a company that sells servers to other businesses. Run by Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), the Chicago branch is visited just before Christmas by interim CEO and Clay’s sister, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston). A holiday movie, Carol is the Scrooge of this affair (she’s the Christmas Carol, get it!). The branch is successful, but not as successful as she wants it to be and so she’s going to lay off tons of staff and/or close the place entirely.

It makes little sense, but not necessarily less sense than the plan of the Chicago team, which is less led by Clay than Clay’s right-hand man, Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), to sign one big client. Said client’s representative, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), is about to leave town but Zenotek is determined to get him onboard. And how will they sign Davis? By having the Christmas Party to end all Christmas parties. Naturally.

Okay, it’s a ridiculous premise, but the whole thing is really just an excuse to showcase the amusing-because-it-isn’t-you behavior that could happen at a drinking and drug fueled Christmas party. There are office hook-ups; lies about model girlfriends; cocaine; prostitutes; trips to the hospital; potential love for Josh in the form of tech guru Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn); McKinnon’s HR manager, Mary Winetoss finally loosening up; and more.

The jokes that land tend to be of two sorts. First, there’s the “they didn’t really say that” variety, and then there is McKinnon. Whether it’s dancing, becoming vexed about people not reading memos on appropriate workplace attire, reminding people that they are at an office even though there’s a party, dancing, or offering thoughts on her car, Mary is the unquestionable highlight of the film. McKinnon’s cleverness lies not just with her ability to offer a great line reading, but also the facial expressions and body language that go with such a reading. Whether it’s a wink or a nod or a wide-eyed stare or something else entirely, even when she’s in the background, McKinnon is able to get a reaction from the audience.

As for the “they didn’t really say that” humor, some of it lands, particularly bits from Miller and Aniston, but some of it is just uncomfortable to watch. This last is exemplified in an almost hook-up between Vanessa Bayer’s secretary and Randall Park’s new guy, where his sexual fantasies are vocalized. Bayer and Park are funny people and they almost make it work, but not quite.

In fact, that seems to be the theme of the movie – almost, but not quite. It is a great cast of very funny people and there are some laughs, but it just is never enough. The jokes are almost there, the situation is almost dumb enough to be believable, the inevitable character arcs are nearly compelling enough to keep the audience from fidgeting. Just not quite.

You could do worse than “Office Christmas Party” if you’re looking for an R-rated holiday romp, but you could do better. I would say it’s inoffensive except that it’s pretty offensive which is the point of it.

But, yes, it’s just not offensive enough.  On the other hand, Kate McKinnon shines.

 

 

photo credit: Paramount

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