"Office Christmas Party” turns holiday antics into a boring, corporate affair


This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

Perhaps inspired by the business culture itself, “Office Christmas Party” is a comedy of conglomeration. Trying to bring together as many comedy formulas as possible, its ultimate goal is to create a raunchy but ultimately safe comedy with board appeal. This careful approach prevents the film from truly lampooning the drab and politically tricky world of the office, instead becoming another corporate drone itself.

The film follows the story of the employees of server company ZenoTek, who are in the final days of a less than productive quarter.

Goofy branch head Clay (T.J. Miller, “Deadpool”), recently divorced CTO Josh (Jason Bateman, “Arrested Deveolpment”) and tech genius Tracey (Olivia Munn, “The Newsroom”) plan on throwing a Christmas party to boost spirits. However, their plans are cut short by Clay’s ruthless sister and CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston, “Friends”), who announces that the company not only will be cancelling the party but also laying off most of the branch’s staff.

To save Christmas and their employee’s jobs, the trio devises to throw the wild party anyway, aiming to impress potential client Walter (Courtney B. Vance, “American Crime Story”) and secure his lucrative contract.

Despite a slew of already used tropes, from the office workers cutting a little too loose to the parody of the political correctness surrounding the holiday season, the film had promise based on its notable cast alone.

Miller, Bateman, Aniston and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live’), who stars as HR party pooper Mary, are the celebrities meant to bring the biggest laughs here, and they do when given something of substance. However, they spend most of their time effortlessly floating through a script that starts off strong before degrading into a tired and frankly boring tour of sight gags and eyerolling sentimentality.

It’s all a little bit depressing, as Vance actually illustrates how funny this film could have been. His character’s turn into a wild man easily gets the biggest laughs of the film, showing the film itself that it can be hilarious when it lets loose. However, his character exits the picture early, along with a desperately needed edge. The aforementioned mixture of unoriginal, one-off jokes and Hallmark-brand Christmas messaging dominates the second half of the film, turning it into a rather boring and sometimes painfully unfunny affair.

The cast tries to do their best with the material, but they never reach the appropriate amount of nastiness required to offset the rest of script, which reaches the sentimental levels of a direct-to-video children’s film by the time it’s all over.

The corniness is especially bad since the film doesn’t even give its characters suitable enough arcs to arrive in the realm of learning a “special Christmas lesson”, buying into tired stereotypes to define them.

In the end, it all makes the film very much like an actual office Christmas party: it’s not bad, but almost unbearably beige and forgettable, making you wish you had just stayed home with some eggnog instead.

If it had only gave into the promise of unexpected antics, “Office Christmas Party” could have been the release from the anxious grip of the holidays that it so desperately wants to be.

Ryan Ninesling