Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Staying Positive: Four Christmases

by Adam Thas
In the winter of 2008, I had a first date with a young lady. The movie she wanted to see was Four Christmases, and, being a first date, I agreed. I hated the movie. I hated just about every moment of Four Christmases. As it happens, myself and this girl didn’t have a second date and the evening ended up being kind of a bust. Trying to recoup a portion of that fateful night, I decided to break out the candy canes and peppermint to find some things to like in Four Christmases.

For those of you who may have not seen Four Christmases (or may have not seen it in a while), it follows a young couple, Brad and Kate, played by Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. They are a “hip” couple that has decided to never get married, never have kids, enjoy each other, and never want to spend Christmas with their families. Each year they tell lies to their families that they are going to third world countries to do charity work but instead go on exotic vacations. This year, however, their plan backfires when they are caught on local television going to Fiji. Brad and Kate -- both coming from divorced families -- are now stuck going to four houses for Christmas…and you wind up with the title Four Christmases.
The movie starts out with a scene with Brad and Kate “role playing” in a bar that eventually leads to them having sex in a bathroom, and 10 minutes later they are using third world children as an excuse to not see their families. Brad and Kate are awful people. However, this leads to the question: if these awful people don’t want to see their families, than how awful are their families? In this sense, the the movie delivers to an extent. Four Christmases almost feels like a Christmas version of Four Rooms, with each house being its own little movie and Brad and Kate the common thread to move the story. It’s a fun concept. Within the first 20 minutes of the movie, Four Christmases does everything right for a semi-interesting Christmas movie. It has a good backdrop, a vehicle to move the story, and sets up the Christmas-style redemption story for two awful people.

On top of the concept, Four Christmases has a great cast for 2008. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon were coming off of Walk the Line and Wedding Crashers a few years earlier, accompanied by respected actors like Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. Witherspoon and Vaughn are fine in the leads, with Witherspoon being her “cute but confident” self and Vince Vaughn doing a lot of “Vince Vaughing.” By 2008, Vaughn had become a bit played out and watching it in the theater it felt like work getting through his delivery. Now a few years removed, I can take a bit more enjoyment out of his performance than I did the first time through. The rest of the cast is made up of small bit parts, but watching it this time the two that stood out were Duvall and Jon Favreau. Most of the people in the movie aren’t in it enough to get a fair judge of their performance and are usually asked to be a character of a character, but Favreau and Duvall are over-the-top only to the furthest point before it becomes absurd. Lucky for us, the first stop on Brad and Kate’s journey is Brad’s father’s house, played by Duvall, with his two brothers Denver and Dallas, played by Favreau and Tim McGraw. There is a lot of screaming and yelling in these scenes, but as far as setting and performances this one is the best. Brad’s father lives in the middle of nowhere in a dilapidated house and drinks beer all day watching TV on a tiny set with bunny ears. Everyone is a cartoon, but like I said before, a few of these work and Duvall and Favreau are the two that worked (at least for me). While Favreau and Duvall’s best scenes happen later, they are tolerable.
I did laugh out loud when Brad and Kate go to Kate’s mother’s house. There is a scene where a baby vomits all over Kate -- I know, not very original -- but the joke isn’t the vomit, but Vince Vaughn’s reaction to it. This is the scene where Vince Vaughn works the best, and I don’t know if any other actor could have pulled off his reaction. Probably my two favorite moments in the movie happen near the end. Brad and Kate eventually make it to see Brad’s mother (Sissy Spacek), where they are joined again by his brothers Denver and Dallas. Denver (Favreau) and his wife Susan (Katy Mixon) play the game Taboo with the entire family. The scene itself is pretty predictable, but Favreau steals the show while playing the game eating wings and staring down Brad. Four Christmases tries multiple times to be emotional, but the only time it succeeds is when Brad goes back to his father’s house. There is a brief scene on the porch between Vaughn and Duvall that's probably my favorite part in Four Christmases. It’s genuine and real, and the best the movie works at bringing out the substance it wants to. Four Christmases wants to be about “family” but this is the only part of the movie that delivers on that theme.
In the end, Four Christmases is still not good but not for the reasons I originally thought. When I saw it for the first time I was 28, single, with no children. Watching this time, Four Christmases wasn’t made for 28-year old me. There are a lot of jokes about babies, nipples, and breastfeeding. Things like a “gift price limit” and in-laws didn’t impact me at all so I didn’t find any humor in it. Now that I’m older, I see the humor in it. I'm just not laughing. While this movie doesn’t work for me, I do think there are some people for whom Four Christmases will work. There is definitely a lot more to not like in Four Christmases than there is to like, but we’re staying positive, peeps (sorry, wrong holiday), so here is what I’ll end it with: holiday movies are a genre with an excessive amount of bad entries. Four Christmases is a bad movie, but as a Christmas movie, you could probably do a lot worse.


  1. Mm...it sounds awful all around. But good job staying positive! :-)

  2. Well, it's set in the Bay Area, so... that's something, I guess?