We are well and truly into the Christmas season now with supermarkets jam-packed, retail workers pulling out their hair and just as many doors on advent calendar opened as there are closed. With just two weeks to go until the big day, Hollywood have unleashed their latest festive offering, focusing on the annual office christmas party, originally titled Office Christmas Party. Do you see what they did there? Featuring an ensemble cast including Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer, Courtney Vance, Rob Corddry, Sam Richardson, Randall Park, Kate McKinnon, Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Jennifer Aniston, is the seasonal comedy a cold Turkey or worthy of the festive cheer?
In a bid to secure a financial giant and in return save the failing company, Josh Parker (Bateman), Tracey Hughes (Munn) and Clay Vanstone (Miller) host an office christmas party to impress Walter (Vane) and encourage him to use their service. However, with Vance's sister, Carol Vanstone (Aniston) threatening to close the family business, its more than just their jobs on the line. Inviting an array of characters into the fold, including Mary, the Head of Human Resources (McKinnon), Jeremy, the Customer Service supervisor (Corddry) and Clara, the security guard (Randolph), Office Christmas Party offers an interesting, if basic, premise for the fun to play out.
Now, my intention is for this paragraph to discuss the cast but if it simply descends into a Kate McKinnon appreciation paragraph, I do apologise. Wait - scratch that - I'm not sorry because she deserves every scrap of appreciation. With no real 'star of the show' - this is very much an ensemble piece - McKinnon absolutely shines, as she does week-in week-out on SNL, did with Ghostbusters earlier this year and succeeded with in the otherwise redundant Masterminds. Mary is naturally a character that just works in comedy and we have seen time and time before, but McKinnon delivers a charm and quirk that elevates that formula tremendously, almost with a knowing wink to the camera. Those who aren't McKinnon admittedly carry their fair share of the weight, particularly Aniston who plays the 'horrible boss' with just enough warmth for audience's not to entirely hate her; while the performance is similar to some of her previous roles, it more than serves its purpose. Jason Bateman, while sporting an uninspired character, does a decent job of pushing the narrative forward, teaming up with Olivia Munn who is decent enough. Also of note, Karan Soni and Vanessa Bayer rightly win their laughs as slightly awkward, unconfident members of the office team and inspired the most laughs during the screening, aside from McKinnon of course.
For a comedy with such a 'simple' title, it features a fair bit of narrative meat to work with, rather than just a basic premise for set pieces to ricochet between and cast members to show off. After the first act dedicates the time to set up a lot of the film, by the time we are in the full swing of things, the energy never lacks and remains at a fever pitch level for the rest of the runtime. It affords each character their own story and narrative strand which culminates with a surprisingly cohesive end-point. It's smart enough to use the warmth and heart of the christmas period to stand out and celebrate the season's festivity, while careful enough never to force the sentimentality associated with it, resulting in a rather refreshing comedy that never feels tied to the season, despite what the title implies and the risk of releasing a film in December. It's crude and lewd enough but never pushes itself into completely uncomfortable territory (as Sisters did last year, but more on that comparison later...), offering a dissolute but rarely debauched series of events to indulge in. On the whole, Office Christmas Party is a harmless and funny adventure around the ins and outs of, well, office christmas parties.
While brimming with talent at every turn, perhaps Office Christmas Party isn't as rib-cracking as it should be. It sparks on more than a few occasions, thanks to the cast's efforts, but it's hardly the most inventive or hilarious comedy to hit theatres and will not become a holiday classic or favourite. By and large, it results in an entertaining two hour trip to the cinema - but one that will be forgotten relatively quickly. It does not require a lot of thought, as is to be expected from the genre, and it's certainly is a terrific way to escape the cold weather, if this type of comedy is your cup of tea. But with so many terrific films spilling out of cinemas at the moment (Arrival and Nocturnal Animals are still making the rounds, and Fantastic Beasts and Moana are positioned as the family-friendly option), I cannot help but think this will be forgotten in the mix. It's not particularly inspired and only has the advantage of seeing funny people do funny things with a funny, recognisable premise, which may not be enough to pull people its way. It's script is a little erratic too, probably down to featuring a whooping six writers, and one cannot help but think the actor's involved are doing the real heavy lifting here.
To steal a popular saying, Office Christmas Party does exactly what it says on the tin. As with last year's Sisters, the film is an amusing, harmless and enjoyable comedy that allows you to escape the winter blues for a couple of hours. However, unlike the Amy Poehler and Tina Fey leading comedy though, no one steps up to plate to lead this one, becoming the leading star to power through when the script becomes a little uneven and turns a little forgettable; McKinnon very easily could, but is featured nowhere near enough to take the reigns, much like Aniston who is seemingly reduced to a few fleeting appearances. It's funny but not hilarious and while you'd probably give it a go again somewhere down the line, you're not exactly rushing back to it. Office Christmas Party is much like the annual celebration in which it shares its title - an absolute blast when you get there, but probably not as brilliant as it should be, and largely disposable. If anything, it just proves that Kate McKinnon is heading for world domination.
Summary: Office Christmas Party shines the brightest when it makes full use of its premise and allows its cast (of which Kate McKinnon is the star) to shine, creating an overall entertaining, if disposable, christmas comedy.
Highlight: Have you still not caught on to how much I love Kate McKinnon?!