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Movie Info


PG-13 for language and sexually-themed humor


October 22, 2004




Ben Affleck, James Gandofini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O’Hara


Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Jeffrey Ventimilla, and Joshua Sternin


Mike Mitchell




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Surviving Christmas

By Phil Boatwright - Dear Readers: Please remember, as a movie reporter, I try to give the positive and negative of a film. While I hope you enjoy reading my opinion, I pray it is the synopsis and content that help you decide if the new release is suitable for your family’s viewing. I suggest the video alternatives because they address similar themes but lack today’s objectionable content.

Warning: This review contains references to sexually themed humor in the film. Some readers may find these references offensive.

Synopsis: Drew Latham (Affleck) tries to catch Christmas magic by returning to his childhood home. There is, however, one problem: the people living there now are not Drew’s family. Nevertheless, he has his mind set on an old-fashioned family Christmas, and the fact that the “family” in question are complete strangers isn’t about to put a crimp in his plans. Offering them a small fortune, the over-zealous Drew bribes his newfound “parents” (Gandolfini, O’Hara) to let him spend the Yule Tide season in their home.


A guy rents a family – that’s an interesting premise. I’m afraid that’s about as positive as I can be toward this disappointing outing from DreamWorks. The best anyone could say for it is that it’s silly. Silly can be good. Ludicrous, however, isn’t so good.

In The Man Who Came To Dinner, a funny film, from days gone by, about an acerbic radio personality forced to stay with a simple Midwestern family during the holidays, wit was used rather than crudity to amuse. With all the strides the motion picture industry has made concerning the art of acting and special effects technology since that movie was made, depth, culture and wit are elements that have too often been ignored in favor of the cheap laugh, which almost always resorts from crude behavior. True, The Man Who Came To Dinner was designed to be more sophisticated, whereas the film in question is meant to be broad comedy. But it relies much too often on masturbation jokes and other lewd or easy gags. What’s more, everything about this production is as synthetic as a ‘70s aluminum X-mas tree. There is simply not one honest or truly touching moment in the entire production, not even when we discover Drew’s secret past, which is played with a maudlin self-pity. I actually thought Drew was going to suddenly say, “Just kidding.”

Then there is the lead. I believe handsome Ben Afflect shows promise, but right now he's more celebrity than thespian. He's still too shallow to be in the deep waters of screen comedy. As for his character, he’s rather bizarre. Drew is nearly devoid of soul, nearly as barren as his glitzy but sterile uptown loft. His character seems not so much desperate for family life as psychotic.

The dysfunctional lower-middle-class family has its problems as well. The bickering parents are set to divorce, their teenaged son spends all his time in front of his computer viewing porno sites, and the grown daughter, well, we never learn her hang-up, but considering her sullen attitude throughout, the assumption must be made that she’s as screwy as the rest. But of course, despite the lunacy of the main character, which she keeps pointing out, she falls for him. Why? Because in the structure of such comedies, that’s her character’s job – to fall for the lead, no matter his mental status.

There are some laughs, but they seem to be guilty pleasures. For example, as Andy Williams sings of the joy of Christmas over the opening titles, we see different people coping badly with the frustrations of the season, including an old lady making frowning gingerbread cookies, and then putting her head in the oven. It’s a funny visual because of the shock value, but the reality that the suicide rate is staggering at Christmastime makes it a tasteless attempt. Tasteless attempt; that pretty much sums up Surviving Christmas.

Rated: PG-13 (for language, sexually-themed humor; 8 obscenities; lots of crude humor, including an incest joke, a grandpa smoking pot, a gay couple kissing, a teen looking at porn sites, masturbation jokes; a man is hit with a snow shovel; the mother does an erotic photo shoot, which winds up on a porn channel and viewed by her son; porno pictures).

Video Alternative: Elf. After accidentally sneaking into Santa's sleigh, a human baby is raised at the North Pole as an elf. After wreaking havoc in the elf community due to his size, Buddy (Will Ferrell) heads to New York City to find his place in the world and track down his father. But life in the big city is not all sugarplums and candy canes. His father is a "Scrooge" and his eight-year-old stepbrother doesn't believe in Santa. Worst of all, everyone has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, and it's up to Buddy and his simple elf ways to win over his family, realize his destiny and, ultimately, save Christmas for New York. Will Ferrell plays Santa’s little helper with absolute abandon and glee. He makes us smile every time he appears. A complete innocent, Buddy approaches everyone with an infectious child-like wonder. There is simply no guile in him.

Elf, thankfully, is not another family adventure bent on convincing the child in all of us that Santa Claus really exists. It’s not trying to convince us of anything. It’s just trying to be funny. Come on, folks, it’s a story about a 6’2” elf!

That’s not to say there isn’t a poignant moment or two. Like any Christmas comedy that has stood the test of time, Elf includes a pinch of humanity. The filmmakers are reminding tinsel hangers of the magic found in family. There’s a nice message about fathers and sons connecting. And of course, the Scrooge-like father discovers what’s really valuable. Okay, it’s a silly, broad comedy, but as I said, there’s nothing wrong with silly. So long as it’s done well. And it helps when the leading man in a comedy is funny.

Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter. Review used by permission. Go to Phil Boatwright's website at for details on how to have reviews of new films delivered directly to your e-mail address.

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