Movies By Matt: Surviving Christmas

Somebody in marketing for DreamWorks must have had a few too many Stoli martinis at the last office “brainstorm party,” because there is absolutely no way any sober or sane person could convince his or her superiors to distribute a Ben Affleck star-vehicle about Christmas before Halloween. Let me reiterate: before Halloween. The movie (not film, the word I usually use, because this does not have the artistic advancement to qualify), Surviving Christmas, tells the same old story with a twist: lonely rich man (Affleck) attempts to reconnect with real life at Christmas, this time by offering $250,000 to stay with the family (James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Christina Applegate, Josh Zuckerman) that now owns his childhood home. Sounds atrocious, right? Well, atrocious is much too tepid a word to describe just how pitiful this movie is, ruining any hope of humor, drama and emotion in general just by its premise, then rubbing salt in the wound by making Affleck the main character, who is supposedly responsible for the best gags. Affleck’s performance here borders on painful: his comic timing barely out strides that of a boulder; his manic energy could suck the life out of any scene; and his annoying physical presence is akin to watching an epileptic seizure. Indeed, the only films that even remotely suit him are action flicks, because they require no talent whatsoever (either comic or dramatic), but a willingness to make a fool of one’s self with disgusting overacting. At least he has that. Affleck’s bad acting notwithstanding, the rest of the flick is awful. Gandolfini (The Last Castle, The Sopranos) attempts a Meet the Parents sort of “leave my family alone” humor, but he ends up as a dour, confusing mess of fear-inducing dad and comic dud. Zuckerman, the center of way too many masturbation jokes for one ninety minute period, may as well not exist, for his character contributes nothing to the movie, and Applegate’s entrance about one-third the way through only succeeds in slowing down the pace with useless, limpid one-liners. Really, the only remote success is O’Hara (but she’s been much better in films with good scripts, or no script at all, like Best In Show or A Mighty Wind), who has the only joke in the movie that elicited even a giggle from any member of the audience. I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you what it is. So, what’s the point? The point is that America is starved for quality mainstream fare, the multiplex a veritable desert of poor films. What law says that the average American cannot, or will not, enjoy intelligent, witty, original and exciting filmmaking? Granted, I Heart Huckabees may be a bit oblique, but films like Garden State, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Manchurian Candidate were all well-crafted films that came out in the middle of summer that were both entertaining and vibrant. It is time for American moviegoers, whether snobs like myself or just the average Joe who goes to the multiplex three times a year, to stand up against the greedy distribution companies who show only rubbish in the suburban cinemas. One look at the offerings at Lawrence Showcase Cinemas this weekend will reveal a true dearth of original and entertaining filmmaking: everything is either a re-casting of something we all saw five years ago or original idiocy. It seems like the most famous directors these days are not auteurs like Quentin Tarantino, Todd Soldonz or Todd Haynes, but generic big-budget Hollywood guys like Bruckheimer and Cameron. Whatever happened to the Great American Movie? Miramax’s “New Golden Age of Cinema” campaign has succumbed to Surviving Christmas (in the running for worst movie of the year), and until films worth seeing come to suburbia, I will still be waiting. Overall Grade: 0