A year from now when it’s finally on DVD, someone I know will ask me if I’ve seen Four Christmases. “Four what?” I’ll ask. “Four Christmases,” they’ll say. “The holiday movie with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn.” And I’ll respond, “no never heard of it.” As far as I’ll know that will be the truth, because by then I’ll have forgotten this movie exists. Its cliché collection of bland, formula gags will have long since been replaced in my brain by more worthy memories. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn’s empty, uninteresting characters will have long since vanished from my consciousness.
This is a movie without the decency to be either good or bad, this is a movie which inspires no feelings one way or another. It’s not boring enough to be irritating and not funny enough to be entertaining. It’s just not worth the trouble. The experience of watching it is akin to having a nice nap. When the credits roll you walk out, have a good stretch, and wonder what you’ve been doing for the past ninety minutes. Then you pull the ticket stub out of your pocket and remember, “Oh yeah, that. Hey is the food court still open?”
It’s not really the fault of Witherspoon and Vaughn who are present in every scene and look, in spite of Vince’s increasingly doughy exterior, every bit the movie stars they are. This is a star vehicle if there ever was one, and they do their best to shine. What exactly is it they’re shining for? Not much. They play Brad and Kate, an unmarried, long-term, committed couple happy with the status quo. You know the type, people that unhappy married people with kids love to hate. They have everything going for them. They’re in love, they have a great life, and they see no reason to ruin it by signing a piece of paper at the local courthouse or by popping out an unending stream of kids. Once this is established, we know that by the end of the movie they will be married and impregnated, since this is a Hollywood movie and this sort of childless happiness can not be allowed to stand. It’s not something those unhappily married ticket buyers are willing to accept.
We know where this going and so then it becomes simply a matter of figuring out how we get there. This script gets there by being into a holiday movie. Ah Christmas, what better time to remind selfishly happy people of the importance of family unhappiness. Normally Brad and Kate spend their Christmas avoiding the divorced mess that is their relatives, by taking an exotic beach vacation. This year bad weather cancels their flight forcing them to spend Christmas day driving to visit the four, disparate branches of their kin.
Each home they visit presents its own set of obstacles, most of which you’ll see coming. Brad’s brothers are roid-raging cage-fighters who beat the shit out of him, his father is a cranky old coot who insults his son and makes him look like a fool. Kate’s female relatives are all sex crazed, especially the old ones since we all know there’s nothing funnier than a horny grandma. When there’s a baby it must inevitably throw up on someone, and when there’s something one of our heroes is afraid of they will of course, be forced to encounter it in an embarrassing, yet humorous situation. By the time it’s all over both Brad and Kate have been made so completely miserable that they go through to the other side, and for inexplicable reasons decide that being miserable is pretty good, and that’s how we get where we’re going. Because we have to. Because that’s the formula and there’s no escaping it.
As formulas go though, this is one of the few which people never seem to get tired. The holiday movie with its pithy, repetitive lessons about the importance of family in the face of utter unhappiness is a staple of the American cinema, and the method in which Four Christmases delivers that trite message is no better or worse than the way it’s been done and will be done by every holiday movie yet to come. At least this one has Vince Vaughn, whose unending string of random chatter remains incredibly entertaining in even the most irritable of circumstances. And it has Reese Witherspoon, who only looks cuter when tucked neatly underneath oversized Vince Vaughn’s protective arm pit.