Never before has a Christmas film been released in theatres pre-Halloween, dismissed from the box-office pre-Thanksgiving, and then shelved in stores pre-Christmas—that is, until now. Surviving Christmas presents the shortest theatre to home-theatre life of any major motion-picture released to date. And that my friends, pretty much sums its quality. Surviving Christmas has the feel of a bad TV sitcom, and frankly, it is an overall Yuletide undertaking that is more loathsome than wholesome.
Drew Lather (Ben Affleck) is a millionaire marketing executive who can “sell whale stakes to Green Peace”—as he claims. However, as far as spending time with family come the holidays, Drew typically finds himself spending the season all alone and ending up with a heart of coal. Once this Scrooge-like outlook leads Drew to the demise of his relationship with his girlfriend Melissa (Jennifer Morrison), he decides to travel to the house that he grew up in as a kid in order to relive his childhood memories and resolve his grievances.
At the home where Drew lived during his adolescence, he meets the Valco family—a group of complete strangers who now reside in his old house. After entering the Valco’s living quarters in the least likely of ways, Drew presents Tom (James Gandolfini), the father, an offer of $250,000 to help him experience the joy and glee of a good old-fashioned family Christmas. Tom accepts the offer, and mother Christine (Catherine O’Hara), son Brian (Josh Zuckerman), and daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) eventually go along with the scheme to obtain the cash. Drew persuades the Valcos to pick out a Christmas tree, to go shopping and tobogganing, and to sing Christmas carols around the hearth. In the beginning, it’s all fun and games for Drew, but in due course, he begins to care about the Valco family. Ultimately, Drew seeks to mend Tom and Christine’s failing marriage and hopes to impress the Valco’s lovely and down-to-earth daughter.
Honestly, after viewing Surviving Christmas it is easy to ask: what has happened to Affleck’s career? He started out well with Chasing Amy and Dogma, and then he wisely ventured towards more mainstream affairs with Armageddon and The Sum of All Fears. Conversely, after Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl, and Surviving Christmas, it now looks as if Affleck has fallen into an acting rut with little hope of getting out. In Surviving Christmas, his role as Drew is flat, dry, and forced—further denoting his downward-spiraling and irksome acting. On the other hand, while Ben’s career is currently collapsing into shambles – as he continually dishes out some of Hollywood’s worst – his love life is on the upswing–as he persistently picks up some of Hollywood’s hottest (most recently Jennifer Garner). At least he has that going for him.
Even with the big names of Affleck and Gandolfini, Surviving Christmas is a flat-out nosedive of a holiday production that truthfully has nothing good going for it. The film’s script is atrocious, the acting is obnoxious, and the direction is careless. In other words, while Surviving Christmas’s early release date should have been a predictor of its own downfall, the absurdly dull quality of the picture will surely send viewers away dismayed rather than endowed with the special spirit of the season.
Surviving Christmas represents a sterling example of a Christmas-season eyesore. Yes, in the end, it may contain a hair more oomph than its utterly unpleasant 2004 Christmas comedy competition of Christmas with the Kranks; however, it’s still one distasteful production that should be stuffed back up the chimney rather than stuffed into some unlucky recipient’s stocking. (* out of ****)