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Office Christmas Party ***

A funny and surprisingly coherent comedy. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Office Christmas Party” is an R rated comedy set, as the title strongly suggests, during the holidays. Yet only a year ago we had “The Night Before,” another comedy for adults that took place during the festival season. That movie, to use the King’s English, kind of sucked. It was ambitious, but it was also a mess; therefore, I was a little reticent to jump into those same waters again. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. “Office Christmas Party” is well put together and, most importantly, quite funny.

The film stars Jason Bateman as Josh Parker, the chief technical officer at the Chicago branch of Zenotek, a technology company. The branch is populated with a bevy of kooky characters (Kate McKinnon, Randall Bell, et al.) and headed by Clay (T.J. Miller), a hard-partying, seemingly ne’er-do-well. When Clay’s sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), the company’s hard-nosed CEO, threatens to close down the branch unless sales improve, Josh and Clay embark on a mission to throw an epic office party in the hopes of impressing a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) whose business would save the company. The party, though, grows like wildfire and quickly spirals out of control.

 



A movie lives and dies by its script, and “Party” has a good one (written by Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer). Yes, I’m grading on a silly comedy curve, but it does a good job of setting up the story, making the characters likable, and paying off its myriad jokes. And most of the jokes lean towards verbal over physical humor, which tends to be my preference.

I don’t mean to misrepresent the movie as it certainly has its share of pratfalls and sight-gags. And when I say verbal humor, I’m not insinuating that the dialogue consists solely of witty repartees. Most of it simply involves some kind of variation on the use of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on television. Highbrow the film is not, but it made me laugh. Often.

And every scene is built to be funny, which keeps any lulls in the film to a minimum. Even quick scenes that simply exist to further the plot are embellished with comedy: a moment where Carol finds out that her flight is canceled, for example, could simply establish that she will go back to the office and find out about the party -- which she forbade her brother to throw. Instead, it veers into a standoff with a little girl who ate Carol’s cinnamon roll. The way that she destroys the girl (by pretending to call Santa Claus and telling him to cancel the girl’s presents) works on two levels. It establishes her ruthlessness (though the little brat did deserve it) thus making her a real threat to the heroes. On the other hand, it’s just really funny.

And with a huge cast (it’s so packed with people, I began to wonder if even I was going to somehow show up in the movie) of gifted actors and comedians, there’s plenty of different personalities and types of humor to enjoy. True, everybody basically plays a version of characters they’ve played before – Bateman is slightly sleazy but likable, McKinnon is completely off-kilter, etc. -- but they’re so good at it that it doesn’t matter.

I hate it when a crummy movie is defended with the excuse that it’s not supposed to be Shakespeare. Yes, some movies don’t aspire to be particularly deep. Some want to do nothing more than be obviously entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that doesn’t excuse them from aspirations to quality. Well, “Office Christmas Party” isn’t Shakespeare, obviously, but it’s a film that does what it wants to do (be a comedy) and, with a tight script and plenty of opportunities for humor, does it well.

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