Four Christmases Directed by: Seth Gordon Cast: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen Running Time: 1 hr 22 mins Rating: PG-13
Plot: An evasive couple attempts to forgo sharing Christmas with their slew of family members, but are caught in the act (on national television). Faced with the unthinkable reality of having to withstand four Christmas gatherings, fun-loving Brad [Vince Vaughn] and Kate [Reese Witherspoon] are reminded how powerful the “holiday spirit” is.
Who’s It For? Those who haven’t grown tired of watching Vince Vaughn candidly play himself for the umpteenth time, and those who have sincerely believed Ms. Witherspoon can’t “bring the funny.”
Expectations: Relatively speaking, Seth Gordon is “merely (a) freshman,” when it comes to film making. This the sixth time he’s taken a seat in the director’s chair, and the first time anyone will bother to notice. Those of you who saw Fred Claus aren’t expecting much from Vaughn. You’re probably awaiting another phoned in rendition of the man-child he’s beaten us over the heads with since Old School hit theaters (in 2003).
Vince Vaughn as Brad: Though he doesn’t break any new ground (and hasn’t in a while), Vaughn’s talent keeps much of the film afloat. He appears more in control of his proven quirks, and aware of when he’s on the verge of plagiarizing himself. It isn’t that he completely negates paraphrasing past characters he’s played, but there’s something about “Brad,” (a.k.a “Orlando.” Watch, and learn) that is sincerely refreshing. He hadn’t so much broken stride—the relentless faux-wittiness that made Vince famous is still there—but this is his first role since Dodgeball where is doesn’t feel like he’s cramming it down our throats. Score: 7
Reese Witherspoon as Kate: Never been much a fan of her work. Hate to say it, but those petite, perfect features have never been my cup of tea. Still, her undeniably gripping performance in Walk the Line caught my attention, but I wasn’t ready to believe she could also make me laugh. Witherspoon has never been this impressive as an actress. Yes, she’s proven she can piss us off. Sure, she’s been in a few tearjerkers. Okay, Legally Blonde wouldn’t have been made without her. But a comic actress? Really? Yes. She gives Elizabeth Banks, a run for her money. I hate to say it, but actresses who have made their living making us laugh (Molly Shannon, I’m looking at you) couldn’t have played Kate more effectively. Score: 10
Robert Duvall as Howard: An actor with a resume as loaded as Duvall’s is usually hired to show up, out act everyone else, collect his pay check, and head home. What makes Howard so believable is the actor’s sincere ability to derive a very real sense of self within him. We don’t see Robert Duvall: Screen Legend, but Brad’s Budweiser-swilling father Howard. He’s a white trash representation of a father whose lack of saying “I love you,” doesn’t mean it’s not the case. Score: 7
Mary Steenburgen as Marilyn: While there were several possibilities for the fourth-leading actor in this film, Steenburgen steals the show as a sex-obsessed cougar of a mom whose newly found appreciation for Jesus doesn’t mean she has to cool her perpetually-aroused libido. Her awkward advances on everyone provide the right touches of comic-relief during many of the film’s few “serious” moments. If I were married to her (which would make my first name “Ted,” and my last name, “Danson”), I’d be sitting pretty. She’s come a long way since having to settle for the background in films like Parenthood. While she’s far from the main attraction in Four Christmases, she certainly makes the most of her few onscreen moments. Score: 8
Talking: Vaughn and Witherspoon are loaded with splendidly dry dialogue in the film's first scene that ably sets the tone for the rest of the film. The chemistry between the two (which wasn’t expected to be convincing coming in) seems to grow throughout, which is key in a film about a couple who forget the importance of “taking the next step,” when you find the one for you. Few lines are wasted, most scenes run as long as they have to, and Tim McGraw (once again) spits his southern drawl with a staunch authenticity that make him so convincing as a deadbeat father who is authentically white trash. Score: 7
Sights: Several moments of obligatory physical humor provide the film with its rare shortcomings. There is one scene in which Vaughn attempts to install a satellite atop his father’s house. Guess what happens—yes, you guessed right, and no, it was not necessary. Score: 7
Sounds: Vaughn’s omnipresent baritone owns most of the soundtrack, but as far as the music goes, it’s essentially your basic holiday fare. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Gavin DeGraw stand out amidst a slew of old standards including Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and Perry Como. Score: 6
Best Scene: The first scene of the film in which we’re lead to believe Brad and Kate are meeting for the first time. Once it becomes apparent this is a happy coupling experimenting with the art of role-play, a collective sigh of relief is thrust upon the audience. Vaughn exuded his usual sense of post-frat confidence, but its Witherspoon who steals the scene, and delivers the most laughs (setting the tone for the rest of the film).
Ending: In a word: Hollywood. So many great comedies have copped out with their measly excuses for an ending. But really, can you blame them? Moviegoers always expect great filmmakers to touch each of their five senses (and in most cases, the elusive sixth!). When you’re constantly going for laughs, its almost implied to go for the heart strings to give the audience the incentive to believe the story meant something.
Questions: Will there be a spin-off film based around Denver [Jon Favreau], and Dallas [Tim McGraw], and where can I buy tickets?
Rewatchability: This film is not as funny as Knocked Up, but it’s certainly as necessary an addition to your DVD collection as anything Vaughn has ever been a part of.
With two newbie-screenwriters, and a director with no previous big-budget experience, it was difficult to assume any cast could carry the weight thrust upon Four Christmases. I didn’t walk into the theater expecting to be impressed. The Christmas season demands thematic entertainment that can tickle the funny bone, and moisten the tear-ducts within an hour and a half time frame. While much of the theater clenched their bellies (as they laughed out loud) throughout, there were a few brief moments when I noticed the dude sitting next to me attempt to conceal the fact he was actually getting choked up. These are the signs of a successful holiday movie. Let’s face it, Vaughn’s agent is still kicking himself for convincing his client to do Fred Claus. We all kind of hate him for doing that. Trust me though, after you see this film, you’ll be too relived to give a damn about the past.
Final Score: 8/10