Review of “Office Christmas Party”

I don’t know about you but where I work used to throw a very nice Christmas party. We would dress up, go to an off-site location, like a restaurant that closed for us or a ballroom, have a great spread of food, open bar, karaoke and prizes for employee of the year and gift cards for the staff would be passed out. It was quite a shindig that would be talked about for days after. Now things are a bit more laid back. We gather in a conference room at work, have a potluck lunch and play a few games for gift cards. There’s no bar, no catering and, much to my chagrin, no karaoke. I’m not complaining as we probably get far more of a holiday treat than most. Still, I miss the parties that sometimes got a little wild and how we would talk about “that” co-worker that passed out in his chair or puked on the dancefloor from too much holiday cheer. No matter how excessive our get-togethers became, they look like a Boy Scout Jamboree compared to the events in “Office Christmas Party.” While I think I would feel wholly out of place and very uncomfortable at such a massive drink-and-drug-fueled bacchanalia I did enjoy watching it in movie form.

The Chicago office of tech/server company Zenotech is managed by Clay (TJ Miller), son of the late company founder. His sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the interim CEO which may be made permanent at the next board meeting. Clay and Carol have a strained relationship as he was coddled and protected by his father, allowing him to skate through school and life, while she worked hard and made herself into a smart and shrewd business executive. Chief Technical Officer for the Chicago office is Josh (Jason Bateman) who has just finalized his divorce. His immediate underling Tracey (Olivia Munn) thinks Josh plays it too safe and she has been working on a new method for wireless internet access that could revolutionize connectivity. Josh thinks the plan is far from ready. Carol storms into the office and calls a department head meeting where she announces layoffs of 40% of the staff, no bonuses and cancels the Christmas party. Clay and Josh tell her they are about to pitch a big server contract to Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) who handles tech purchases for a giant company. If they can land the contract Carol, who is leaving that night for London, agrees there won’t be any layoffs and bonuses will be paid. Clay, Josh and Tracey meet with Davis but he fears Zenotech is more concerned about the bottom line than its employees, citing the recent closing of another branch. Clay ensures Davis Zenotech is more like a family than a company and invites him to the office Christmas party despite it being cancelled by Carol. He agrees to come giving Clay, Josh and Tracey only five hours to throw together a massive blowout from scratch.

“Office Christmas Party” is a pretty typical R-rated raunchy comedy. There is some nudity, some drug use, some hidden attraction between a couple of characters that slowly is exposed, a quirky member of the staff that goes from being hated to being loved, family rifts are mended, etc. Looking at what makes up the story, the film is a convoluted and overstuffed mess. Judging it by how much I laughed, it’s a holiday miracle.

“Office Christmas Party” is filled with lots of funny people: TJ Miller, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Matt Walsh and more. Some of these folks, namely Miller, were allowed to improvise on set extensively. A surprisingly high percentage of what stayed in the film works. It’s one of those rare comedies where the actors were allowed to just play and see what happens and it actually came out funny. There are a lot of laughs in “Office Christmas Party.” Many of them are cheap visual gags and tasteless sexual humor but funny is funny so who cares.

A surprising comedic performance is turned by Courtney B. Vance. Better known for his dramatic roles in a couple of the “Law & Order” series and most recently in “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” for which he won an Emmy outstanding lead actor in a drama limited series, Vance starts out serious and straight-laced; but an encounter with a face full of cocaine accidently put through a snow blower releases the party animal within the character. It is a wildly different role for Vance and he performs it with abandon and glee. You actually feel his character is relieved to let loose and have fun for once. Granted, it ends somewhat badly for that character but still, Vance’s performance is so energetic it almost makes his injuries worth it.

Kate McKinnon also turns in another brilliant supporting performance as Mary, the head of human resources. Constantly reminding people about the risks they run for enjoying themselves too much at the party (including telling them they need to have any party sex off the work property and in the parking lot next door), McKinnon plays Mary like a volcano about to erupt. She wants to do the things she warns others not to but lacks the confidence and fears what her co-workers would think of her. She shouldn’t worry since none of them like her for her constant reminders about following proper office protocols and the dress code. McKinnon might be getting pigeonholed as the eccentric supporting player but she tears into this one with enormous gusto and fearlessness. I’m sure we’ll discover she is a brilliant dramatic actress one day but I do enjoy her performance here as the odd duck that finally finds her place.

The story of “Office Christmas Party” is overly complicated and takes a few odd turns while still being rather predictable. I won’t get too specific about the details but it seems to not be sure exactly how to get to the inevitable happy ending so it keeps throwing in complications for the main characters while juxtaposing it with the increasing insanity of the party. The ever increasing alcohol abuse, drug use and office casual sex reaches such an overload it isn’t realistically sustainable. I know it’s a movie and there wasn’t any actual substance abuse and rampant unsafe sex but there comes a point where its onscreen depiction exceeds the audiences’ ability to accept or believe it. The same can be said for the complications piled on complications that show up for our heroes. The speed with which they are solved also makes the weak and overloaded story that much more threadbare.

“Office Christmas Party” is rated R for drug use, crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language throughout. Pot and cocaine are shown being freely used in the latter half of the movie. Alcohol overindulgence is also a major part of the story. There are several brief views of topless women, a very brief view of male genitalia and an equally brief view of a couple having sex on a desk as well as many bare backsides of both sexes. Foul language is common throughout.

It may not become a family holiday tradition to watch the DVD of “Office Christmas Party,” but it is a fun way to kill a couple of hours if you want to take a break from holiday shopping in your local multiplex. The laughs are as free flowing as the alcohol at the party of the title. It isn’t for the easily offended and those that can’t take a joke at the expense of the holiday. If you have your big boy Santa hat on, this might be just the relief from the holiday hassle you are looking for.

“Office Christmas Party” gets five stars.

This week we get a visit from death, love and time plus we return to a galaxy far, far away. I’ll see and review at least one of the following and who am I kidding as we all know what I’m going to see:

Collateral Beauty—

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—

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