It's most likely that Four Christmases wouldn't be nearly so funny or endearing (though that may be slightly too strong a word for it) if it didn't take place around the holidays. Just watching these family members be mean to each other would probably be merely sad if it weren't juxtaposed with this holiday that is supposed to be at least partially about family togetherness. The premise of the film is gimmicky for sure (four Christmases in one day?), but what happens during those four Christmases is actually a lot of fun to watch.
I didn't expect much from this film and I was delightfully surprised. It's funnier than I thought it would be, and while Vaughn and Witherspoon are pretty much devoid of chemistry, there is an undeniable quirky charm to their pairing, though their best and funniest moments are when they're not in scenes together. The two play San Francisco couple Brad and Kate who go on exotic trips for Christmas each year in order to avoid their families. This year, however, they find out at the airport that all flights are canceled for the day. When a television news crew approaches them for a comment about the cancellations, the cat is let out of the bag: Brad and Kate are, in fact, in town for Christmas. Zaniness, of course, ensues, so read more.
Having seen the news reports, all four sets of Brad and Kate's divorced parents get in touch, hoping for some time with the elusive couple. Thus begins a hectic, harrowing day of physical abuse from Brad's brothers and emotional abuse from Kate's sister. Additionally, Brad has to play Taboo with his childhood buddy who is now dating his mother (Sissy Spacek, who, after Hot Rod, is getting quite good at the comedic older mom roles), and Kate revisits one of her most traumatic childhood moments. In the end, they learn a lot about each other and themselves and their families. You know the drill.
It's actually a good date movie in that I think both men and women will get a kick out of the silly hijinks and surprisingly funny wordplay, and the humor is relatively inoffensive. There are some slower moments but for the most part there aren't many points of forced emotion. In fact, one of the best things about the movie is that it's not "message-y." There's no tearful group hug and professions of the holidays being "all about our wacky, loving family!" There's very little schmaltz, and while the schmaltz is wonderful in many holiday movies, I found the lack of it here to be refreshing.
All in all, it's a forgettable film — I don't foresee any memorable Anchorman-like quotes making their way into our pop culture lexicon, for example — but while it lasts it's a pretty good jolt of holiday fun.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.