GUEST CRITIC #19: Office Christmas Party

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As busy I get from time to time, I find that I can't see every movie under the sun, leaving my friends and colleagues to fill in the blanks for me.  As poetically as I think I wax about movies on this website as a wannabe critic, there are other experts out there.  Sometimes, it inspires me to see the movie too and get back to being my circle's go-to movie guy.  Sometimes, they save me $9 and you 800+ words of my blathering.  In a new review series, I'm opening my site to friend submissions for guest movie reviews.


Say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Jake and Kimberly Narens!  Kim is a former co-worker of mine from back in the day.  She was the art teacher and I was a fourth grade teacher at the Lloyd Bond campus of Chicago International Charter Schools during its inaugural school year in 2009-2010.  We have both moved on to other jobs since then and also become first-time parents.  While I am still in Chicago, she and her husband now call the sultry heat of Chandler, Arizona home.  I'm guessing they don't miss shoveling snow.

Kim is still an art teacher and Jake is in tech sales.  They met back in undergraduate college but never got together until visiting mutual friends after college.  That momentous connection began at a Halloween party when Kim was a sexy Walmart greeter (bet there's not a "People of Walmart" page for those) and sports fanatic Jake was a cutoff-hoodie-clad New England Patriots coach Bill Belechick complete with camera.  The rest is sweeping romantic history, topped off by their lovely daughter Prim.

Jake's favorite movie is "Gladiator," matched by Kim's favorite of "Amelie."  Competing tastes like that made for a fun review of "Office Christmas Party."  Jake does most of the talking here, but you know Kim sure got a word or two in for sure.  Best of all, Jake hits a home run with the chameleon route of emulating my website's signature life lessons to cap off the review.  Take a gander! 



So the missus and I and had a rare dinner and a movie date night and much to my surprise, she wanted to see "Office Christmas Party." We both enjoy comedies, but usually wait for Netflix/HBO. I’ve included my wife’s thoughts as well and for reference, she’s a harsh critic and I’m pretty easy to please.

The premise (not that generally matters for an R rated comedy) is that fictional Data Storage company Zenotek isn’t doing well and interim CEO/Psycho Bitch Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is shutting branches down and laying folks off. Next on the chopping block is their Chicago branch run by her brother Clay (T.J. Miller) even though it was once their fathers (assumed founder of the company) branch. Lucky, CTO Josh (Jason Bateman) has a plan to land a huge client and save the branch.

The movie is fraught with issues. First, the interim CEO is making enormous changes, seemingly without board approval. The CTO seems to report to a Branch Manager. Zenotek is a data storage company, but the only product the talk about is client servers (computing, not storage), and the star engineer’s (Olivia Munn) big project is a networking product. It’s the same tired formula most movies use. Something goes wrong, the gang comes up with a crazy plan to save the day, problems arise, someone gets in trouble, his/her friends save the day in some unplanned fashion. I could go on, but let’s be honest; if you go see this movie hoping for a worthwhile plot then you’ve already failed. You go see an assemble, R-rated comedy for the jokes and the comedians.

So the real question here is, is the movie funny? And it is. It’s really funny. My wife isn’t a big laugher, but I heard plenty coming from her. I laughed a lot and in general so did the half full theater. The movie has a loaded cast and everyone gets a chance to do their thing. Jason Bateman is basically Michael Bluth ("Arrested Development"), the sane careful guy surrounded by craziness. T.J. Miller and Olivia Munn also play the same character the basically always are. Aniston plays her part as the cold blooded business woman who eventually comes around and helps her brother just fine. If you enjoy them in anything else, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy them in "Office Christmas Party" as well. Still, none will be remembered for this movie.

Kate McKinnon’s Mary the HR wet noodle is a real treat. Sure, she’s basically doing an extended "Saturday Night Live" bit on the big screen, but she’s damn good at it. She gets every ounce of funny out of even her most poorly written lines including more than one fart joke. SNL has uncovered many of the funniest female actors and she’s clearly next in line. Jillian Bell ("Workaholics") and Vanessa Bayer ("SNL") play smaller roles as a pimp and assistant/de facto manager and each delivers some of the movies best jokes.

Chicago Bull Jimmy Butler shows up in a cameo role and delivers way better than expected. He could have LeBron James level acting in his future (though he won’t likely ever be a big enough star to get the opportunity). Fortune Feimster ("Chelsea") has arguably the funniest scene of the movie as a first time Uber driver.

Besides some very funny performances, the movie also knows exactly what it is. Most comedies are funny for 60ish minutes, then stop being very funny when it comes time to resolve the plot. "Office Christmas Party" spends very little time focused on resolution in order to maximize it’s time to be silly. It’s the sort of thing I expect critics to hate, but I believe audiences love.

On the ride home, my wife and I judged the movie based on two criteria: How did it stack up to the categories best movies and did it meet our expectation? It’s most definitely not "The Hangover" or "Old School," but it was funny and enjoyable throughout. We both expected a stupid movie with comedians that we enjoy, or something around a two star movie. For my wife, it lived up to expectations and she gave it two stars. I thought it was a little better/funnier than expected and give it three stars and thus it gets a collective two and half stars from us.

LESSON #1: DON'T BE AFRAID TO TAKE A RISK-- Bateman’s character seems to have stagnated in life in large part because he’s been playing it safe (though CTO of a major tech company is pretty good). But the silly plot forces him to finally go for it and because of that he helps save his company and gets the girl.

LESSON #2: WOMEN CAN EXCEED IN THE TECH INDUSTRY TOO-- In an industry dominated by men, it’s the mid-level female who ultimately saves the day. Girls can be brilliant too.

LESSON #3: COMPANY CULTURE MATTERS-- If you’ve never worked for a company you like, keep your eyes open for the opportunity. Miller’s character clearly has no real management skills, but he learned one thing from his successful father that I’ve found to be very true. Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your company. 


Wow!  Ladies and gentlemen, that's how it's done.  Lessons and all!  Color me impressed, Jake and Kim!  I sincerely thank Mr. and Mrs. Narens for volunteering their thoughts and creativity on "Office Christmas Party."  Come back anytime!  I'll have you know Jake has already reserved a future "Guest Critic" appearance for as-yet-untitled "Star Wars: Episode VIII" next year.  Hopefully, he and his wife will be back before then.

Friends, if you see a movie that I don't see and want to be featured on my website (and get a fun possibly true/possibly fake biography written about you), hit up my website's Facebook page and you can be my next GUEST CRITIC!