Surviving Christmas
Dreamworks // PG-13 // $29.99 // December 21, 2004
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 24, 2004
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The Movie:

In the film "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back", pals Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rip into each other regarding some of their past acting choices. If director Kevin Smith ever made a sequel starring the two actors, I don't think Affleck could have any explanation to how he could have ever made "Surviving Christmas". The film's trailers before its October release told audiences that "Christmas comes early this year." They forgot to include, "...because this movie's being dumped on video in record time."

"Surviving" starts with an intro to Drew Latham (Ben Affleck), who is a successful advertising executive. So far, so decent, as Affleck is suited for that kind of role. Things don't go well, however, when Drew tells his girlfriend, Missy (Jennifer Morrison) they should go to Fiji for the holidays. She doesn't exactly take kindly to that offer, as she's upset that they're not going to do something with the family - not only that, but she's never been introduced or heard about his family, so she dumps him.

After that, Drew realizes that he's lonely and looks for someone to spend the holidays with, even going so far as to go after Missy's therapist (Stephen Root) for help. He suggests going to his family's old house and lighting up a list of burning a list of things he feels about his family in some sort of weird attempt at cosmic forgiveness. Unfortunately, Tom Valco (James Gandolfini) is now the owner of the house and doesn't exactly take kindly to the sight of what Drew's doing outside, hitting him over the head with a shovel. When he wakes up, Tom, mother Christine (Catherine O'Hara) and son Brian (Josh Zuckerman) are standing over him. However, somewhere around the shovel hit and the lit list, Drew seems to have had a mental break that no one - not even him - realizes.

After a short tour of the house, he tells Tom that he wants to stay there for the holidays. When that's met with a predictable "no", he offers $250,000 to "rent" his family. While Drew had previously seemed like the kind of jerky exec character that Affleck could probably play decent in his sleep, Drew suddenly undergoes an abrupt change to being mentally ill. He starts irritating them into doing various holiday tasks and acting rather creepy. It's a truly bizarre performance - the character is unlikable, but Affleck's performance is such a train wreck that it's somewhat watchable. He tries to get Christine and Tom repair their marriage and even falls for their daughter, Alicia (Christina Applegate).

"Surviving Christmas" tries to be a darkly funny holiday movie (and there's a few great examples of that, including "Scrooged"), but it has no sense of comedic timing and these elements fall flat. The screenplay is terrible, leaving good actors (O'Hara and Gandolfini) to flail about, trying to make something out of nothing. The PG-13 rating also restricts the picture from going too far with everything it attempts. Overall, "Surviving Christmas" is a nearly total loss - it starts off promisingly, then falls apart completely once Drew offers the $250,000. I wish I could have gotten paid to sit through this film.


VIDEO: "Surviving Christmas" is presented by Dreamworks in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame, with both editions taking up one side of a dual-layer disc. The different versions are accessible via the menu. The anamorphic widescreen presentation looks pretty mediocre, although that could be the way that it's always looked, given that I thankfully didn't see this film theatrically. Sharpness and detail remained inconsistent - although usually lackluster (the picture appeared noticably soft at times), there were some moments where the picture approached a more pleasing level of definition.

Other issues besides the sharpness entered the picture, as well: some minor edge enhancement was present at times, while some slight pixelation was also spotted. The print usually remained in fine shape, but some grain and a couple of specks were visible. Colors remained bright, if a little smeary looking. Flesh tones could also look a bit unnatural in some scenes, as well. Overall, this was a pretty bland presentation - "Christmas" was rushed into theaters and it appears to have been rushed onto DVD, as well.

SOUND: "Christmas" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film offers a pretty conventional "comedy" soundtrack, with very little in the way of surround use. The majority of the audio is offered by the front speakers, as music and general ambience is decently spread across the front speakers. Dialogue and music seemed clear and well-recorded.

EXTRAS: A brief HBO "making of" featurette, a much darker alternate opening, a storyboard gallery and promos for Anchorman and The Terminal

Final Thoughts: One of the year's worst, those who (for some reason) are looking for a terrible holiday movie should seek out "Surviving Christmas" as a rental. Everyone else should stay clear of the film. Dreamworks offers a DVD with mediocre audio/video quality and (thankfully) little in the way of supplements.

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