It’s not easy squeezing Office Christmas Party into one of Corner of Film’s review categories. It’s certainly not bound for the Hall of Fame, and it’s not quite a Film That Time Forgot. Despite receiving mixed reviews, it’s an Unpopularity Content for me, but not necessarily in the way in which UC was intended.
While normally, Unpopularity Content is reserved for films with poor reputations that deserve a fair shake, Office Christmas Party sees the format flipped on its head – it’s a generally accepted film, but it doesn’t really deserve to be.
Office Christmas Party is what happens when Hollywood takes a few standard comedy tropes, pays a large ensemble cast of comedic actors, shoehorns Christmas into proceedings, and coils out a steaming pile of mediocrity. It follows Josh (Jason Bateman), Tracey (Olivia Munn), and Clay (T.J. Miller) as they throw an out-of-hand office Christmas party (hence the unimaginative title) in order to try to land a big client that could save their branch from being closed by Clay’s sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who is the acting CEO of Zenotek, a tech conglomerate formerly run by their late father.
From that synopsis, you could easily fill in the blanks of Office Christmas Party by consulting your underwhelming comedy checklist: there’s uninteresting and unlikeable characters, a romantic subplot that’s impossible to care about, various interchangeable supporting characters, and a plot so flimsy and convenient that a toddler could see through it. (Please do not allow any toddlers to watch this film. Not only is it not appropriate, but it might give them the wrong idea about cinema.)
There are a handful of laughs to be had, but they’re few and far between, and the sheer amount of filler material that fluffs out Office Christmas Party is enough to make you swear off Christmas entirely. For a time, the film’s plot seems to meander aimlessly before finally settling on the strange and unsatisfying emotional reconciliation between Clay and Carol, while forcing its weird, romantic nonsense on its audience with practically no context whatsoever.
While dunking on a woefully uninteresting film is fun, Office Christmas Party does have a few redeeming qualities. The first and biggest is the comedic ability of its cast – and, while a number of the actors fall considerably short in the delivery, the others make up for it by being genuinely funny. Rob Corddry and Sam Richardson are both entertaining in their limited roles, and Randall Park delivers some uncomfortably awkward moments that are good for a few laughs. Jillian Bell and Abbey Lee as Trina and Savannah respectively (that’s a pimp and an escort, for those keeping score) also work well in their roles from a comedic standpoint. Jennifer Aniston delivers a sound performance as the unpleasant Carol, and T.J. Miller is able to be equal parts funny and irritating throughout. Jason Bateman delivers most of his lines with the same vague disinterest that I personally felt during Office Christmas Party, and while Kate McKinnon tried incredibly hard to milk comedy out of her stick-in-the-mud HR representative character, it only came off as a little too forced (despite her character being practically the only one making rational decisions). Karan Soni also appears, and he’s relatively okay, and Olivia Munn plays a role so underwritten that she literally could have been replaced mid-way through the film and it’s unlikely anyone would have noticed.
Despite there being a few well-written moments of comedy, most of Office Christmas Party is as much of a mess as the titular party, without any of the fun. A great many of the jokes feel misinformed, with parents bringing their young child to the party just to ditch him and get high, numerous fart jokes that would struggle to make a 12-year-old laugh, and pop culture references more dull than the films they reference.
Even if it wasn’t so unreliable in its comedy, Office Christmas Party‘s story is such a mess that there’s very little enjoyment to be gleaned from this festive “comedy”. And, when there’s already a great many festive comedies out there that are either: a) genuinely funny, b) family-friendly, or c) both of the above, there’s very little point in wasting your time on a film as brainless as Office Christmas Party.
Summary: Occasional moments of comedy are lost in this directionless mixture of incoherent pseudo-comedy and cheesy sentimental filler. Despite a promising cast, Office Christmas Party is every bit as bland as its name suggests.
Highlight: Jennifer Aniston beating up various nameless henchmen was an unexpected tonal shift which was never mentioned again, but it was brilliant nonetheless.