Four Christmases

Four Christmases

**

Reviewed by: Martin Gray

Beginning this review, I mistyped the title of this film as 'Dour Christmases' and if that's not Freudian I don't know what is. For this is a bit of a downer as seasonal comedies go - not so much feelgood as I don't know what to feel. It's certainly laugh-out loud funny in parts. It has some well-constructed emotional moments. There are one of two nice verbal gags. And it has more Academy Award winners per inch than any film I've seen this year (Witherspoon, Duvall, Steenbergen, Spacek, Voight and probably more). It's just... well, let's take it from the top.

Brad and Kate live in San Francisco, have great jobs, are madly in love and avoid their families at Christmas; they pretend they're off doing charity work in far-flung places while sneaking off on tropical holidays. This year, though, fog grounds their plane to Fiji and an overzealous newshound at the airport ambushes them for an opinion, inadvertently informing their parents that they're available to visit. As they're stuck in the country until the next day and the game's up, they decide to bite the bullet and visit the four homes of their divorced parents.

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So it's meet the parents times four: the redneck dad and fighting-mad brothers; the 'cougar' mother, baby-mad sister and cheeky niece; the New-age mom and classmate-turned-stepfather; and the reformed womanising dad. And along the way our protaganists learn a few lessons and reassess their views of what they want from life.

While the learning of lessons can often derail a comedy, this doesn't have to be so, and the calibre of actors here stop that being the case. I think the main problem is that if we're to go along with the film, we have to empathise with Kate and Brad's situation - we have to feel their pain as they visit their ghastly relatives.

Problem is, the families aren't so bad. They welcome the couple and any bad feelings that do surface stem from their hurt at Kate and Brad having not bothered with them for years. If anyone is awful it's these two, who are consistently snotty towards the relatives they look down on. This means that when, for example, a baby vomits on Kate (and is there a lazier crowd pleaser than that?), you don't think, 'hideous family' so much as, 'what took you so long, kid?'. And it's like that all the way through - whatever bad thing happens, it's not bad enough. I can't remember ever wanting a character to die in a Christmas movie, but when Brad is sliding down his dad's roof, you can bet I had my fingers crossed.

And that's another thing - Four Christmases doesn't feel Christmassy enough. This is the time of year when I want buckets of forced sentiment with my overpriced cola, but this film felt cold despite the lack of snow. There was no heart, and not enough festive songs on the soundtrack to make up for it. Basically, this is a by-the-numbers storyline which I've seen done better elsewhere (The Vicar of Dibley and Gilmore Girls for two).

If you like Reece Witherspoon, Vince Vaughan and cameoing character actors, and have a free afternoon and a cinema subscription card, you won't feel that this film has entirely wasted your time. But if you have an invitation from annoying relatives, take them up on it - you'll have far more fun.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2008
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Four Christmases packshot
A couple are forced to visit the relatives they hate over Christmas.
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Director: Seth Gordon

Writer: Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Starring: Reece Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, John Voight, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Chenoweth

Year: 2008

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, Germany

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