Surviving Christmas

Surviving Christmas. Liveplanet 2004.

Before watching the movie:

Nobody talks at all about this movie. I see the title floating around, but usually only as a title available in a catalog, not even anything people are referencing. It only just barely exists.

The summary I saw of this movie just described a rich eccentric paying a family to let him spend Christmas with them, but then I looked up the trailer, and I was expecting a lonely older man as the rich guy, but it’s going to be very strange to see Ben Affleck playing a goofy inept manchild. I may have missed the early heartthrob stage of his career, but I always thought he was doing more grounded romantic leads.

As well this looks incredibly like a Christmas remake of Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. I thought the guy was going to just be lonely, but apparently it specifically says he’s looking to recapture his childhood, spelled out in the contract they draw up. So it’s not just a family hijacked by someone who turned on the money firehose, it’s a family hired to make a middle-aged man feel like a kid again.

After watching the movie:

High-powered ad exec Drew Latham planned to spend Christmas with his girlfriend in Fiji, but when he surprises her with the tickets, she refuses because Christmas is for family, and why has he never even talked about his family with her anyway, he must not be all that serious about her, and breaks up with him. Suddenly without Christmas plans, he calls everyone in his contacts but nobody considers him close enough to let him crash their holiday. Drew accosts Missy’s therapist in the security line at the airport, and to get rid of him, the doctor tells him to write his grievances about his family on a piece of paper and burn them somewhere that brings happy childhood memories. Drew goes out and finds his old childhood home, but as he did not announce himself before turning up on their lawn and burning things, Tom Valco, the father of the family currently living there attacks him with a snow shovel. In clearing up the misunderstanding, Drew asks for a tour of the old house, and, overwhelmed with nostalgia and loneliness, offers Tom $250,000 to let him spend Christmas with them, which Tom accepts without consulting his family. At mom Christine’s insistence on knowing what they’ve been signed up for, Drew has a lawyer draw up a contract where the family will pose as Drew’s family and assist him in Christmas activities to experience childhood holiday glee. Now within contract to make the family do whatever he wants, Drew forces Tom to wear a Santa hat in public, eats all of Tom’s salami, kicks son Brian out of his room because it was his old room, and hires a community theater actor to play his grandfather Doo-Dah. Adult daughter Alicia, coming home for Christmas, is bewildered and hostile toward Drew’s insane demands, but they slowly warm up to each other as the strain from renting the household to Drew threatens to break every existing weak point in the family.

I think this is actually a little less forced than Dickie Roberts. I find it more believable that a lonely millionaire could get carried away trying to buy the perfect family Christmas than an actor trying to do research in how to be normal. I do feel like the conceit of the house being Drew’s old house gets lost once the contract comes out. It’s only used as an excuse for him to attach himself to the family, but it seems like it should have been more relevant throughout. The big difference in the dynamic is that here the father is suffering the interloper just as much as his family, and I like that better.

It’s still a little strange to see Ben Affleck doing comedy. He must have done it a lot in his early career but I wasn’t into romances at the time. He isn’t as cartoonish as he came off in the trailer, so it’s easier to accept him as a mostly normal guy who’s just gotten used to throwing money at everything he wants. Alicia gets a bit unreasonable pushing back, but when she’s really overreacting, she does apologies. As much fun as the parents are, the actor playing Doo-Dah steals every scene.

The title doesn’t really lead in the right direction. There’s plenty to have to survive about a normal Christmas, but this is a story about a golden wrench being thrown into a barely functional family. That’s a really fun story, but it doesn’t really have any commentary on modern holiday customs. It’s just a crazy thing that could happen.

This movie is a lot of fun, but I don’t think it’s a revelation or something to play into the ground. This isn’t a holiday classic, in fact the characters watch the holiday classics extensively. But if one were to come across it while looking for a Christmas thing, it wouldn’t be a waste of time.

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