Christmas movies are supposed to make us feel better about spending the holidays with our dysfunctional families. The typical formula involves a relatively normal person trying to navigate a household of crazies, so you can imagine how great you’re supposed to feel after watching Four Christmases, in which a couple visit all four parents on Christmas Day when their travel plans get scuppered.
Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) end up in holiday hell after their flight to Fiji is cancelled. Their families spot them in a TV news report, and, unable to lie low for the day, they are forced to visit each of their divorced parents. It doesn’t take long to realize why they’ve taken pains to avoid annual Christmas get-togethers. Their parents and siblings are all manners intimidating, embarrassing, and shameless, and there’s enough unresolved rivalry and childhood insecurity to last another year.
The film does its best to try to top itself with disturbing relatives. Brad’s father (Robert Duvall) and brothers (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw), trained UFC fighters, are a storm of martial fury, and Kate is shocked by the way they continue to bully Brad. But her own mother (Mary Steenburgen) and perpetually pregnant sister (Kristin Chenoweth) are no better. Masters at passive aggressive teasing, they do a fine job of belittling Kate in front of her boyfriend.
Four Christmases boasts a sprawling and colorful cast of country yokels, new age spiritualists, and evangelical firebrands, but they never rise above cliched stereotypes and their eccentricities are mostly used for quick laughs. The idea that our kooky families have something to teach us about love and commitment gets through, but the sentiment doesn’t stick around for long. Although the Vaughn and Witherspoon bring more nuance to their characters than the script calls for, Brad and Kate don’t really earn our sympathies. While the two are committed and content with no thoughts of marriage or children, they’ve long taken the easy route and let the difficult questions in their relationship hide behind the family fireworks. The couple may be the sanest of the lot, but their relationship lacks honesty and the warmth that comes with it, which is what a successful Christmas film depends on.
Prod: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman
Dir: Seth Gordon
Writer: Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Kristin Chenoweth, Katy Mixon
Time: 88 min
Country: United States