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Office Christmas Party
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Office Christmas Party

Have you ever had the feeling of shame and regret after doing something stupid? That’s what you get seeing Office Christmas Party – the latest mainstream R-rated comedy to come from the conveyor belt of ‘shock’ comedies originating from Hollywood.

Christmas is approaching and morale is low at the Chicago office for a major data storage company – made even worst when the interim CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to cut 40% of the workforce. Out of desperation the Branch Manager/Carol’s brother Clay (T. J. Miller), the Chief-Technical officer Josh (Jason Bateman) and the head of tech Tracey (Olivia Munn) try to land a big contract and they plan to win over the buyer by throwing a Christmas party to end all Christmas parties.

Since the success of The Hangover back in 2009, there has been a massive influx of R-rated comedies that are marketed as raunchy, but in reality a genre that plays it safe – using swearing and debauchery as a crutch. 2016 has already seen The Boss, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Bad Moms and when Office Christmas Party can be considered one of the better offerings of the year then it shows that it was a bad year for R-rated comedies. Office Christmas Party is also the third R-rated comedy to be set in Chicago this year.

Office Christmas Party has a terrific comedic cast, Bateman, Miller, Aniston, Rob Corddry and many members of the Saturday Night Live crew. Miller and Aniston were the best performers as the feuding brother and sister who still act like teenagers as they fight and bicker. Miller was given free-reign to ad-lib and play up to his slacker persona, whilst Aniston got to tap into her inner bitch. Other performers did not fare so well – Bateman’s deadpan style of humour was ill-suited for the film and Kate McKinnon was reduced to uptight HR manager whose main concern was to ensure that no one gets offended by anyone else and farts when she gets nervous. It’s a big comedown from her scene-stealing performance in the Ghostbusters reboot. The cast was so large that some of the cast members lost the fight for screen time – the film had Jamie Chung, a recognisable actress, as a voluptuous staff member and treated like she was a major member of the team near the end of the film, yet she was hardly in the preceding feature. Her role was properly cut in the editing room.

The central plot of a company throwing a wild party to win a lucrative contract is a thin one (also a bit illogical but a comedy can get away with a certain level of suspension of disbelieve). Office Christmas Party had to rely on its subplots and mini character arcs. There is Clay and Carol’s rivalry because, despite Carol’s successes as a businesswoman, their father favoured the layabout and Josh has just got his divorce finalised; and just as a spark the film’s leads starts with a flair up with Tracey as he gets offered a promotion. Supporting characters also have subplots: Nate (Karan Soni) hires an escort to pretend to be his girlfriend and Clay’s personal assistant, Allison (Vanessa Bayer) – a divorced single mother – has a potential romance with a co-worker. The characters are overwritten – like Tracey saying she was alone at Christmas and it was clearly hinted that she lost her family.

The central concept of the film is the party gets wilder and uncontrollable, but that is not enough to sustain Office Christmas Party and after the half-way point the film moves away from the office block. Office Christmas Party has been compared to the reprehensible 2012 film Project X where a bunch of high schoolers throw an out-of-control party and are celebrated for it despite the havoc it caused for the neighbours. At least the general public didn’t suffer in Office Christmas Party by the actions of a group of selfish dimwits since it happened in the Downtown area of Chicago.

Office Christmas Party was directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon who made the funny Blades of Glory. However, Speck and Gordon, along with their writers, were too keen to sign point some of their big set-ups: one involving a bridge, another including a snow machine and some illicit substances; Carol’s Krav Maga skills are shown so they could be used later. Other jokes are meant to be raunchy like the way eggnog is dispensed, but it’s easy to be numb to them now. One of the more inventive jokes is how the filmmakers made the rude photocopier gag.

Office Christmas Party has a talented cast and the occasional joke that lands, but it does little to stand–out from its R-Rated contemporary. It’s safer than some other R-Rated comedies and is so unremarkable that it will be forgotten.