By Marc S. Sanders
I love Christmas cookies. Those Santa, snowman and tree shaped sugar cookies with the frosting and sprinkles. They are my weakness come every December. Cookie cutter, however, is not necessarily a compliment when talking about a movie. Four Christmases is as cookie cutter as they come.
Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are Kate and Brad, an unmarried couple happily going on three years and ready to celebrate the holidays alone in Fiji while lying to their divorced parents, on both sides, about doing charitable service within poorly developed countries. However, when they arrive at the airport and learn that their flight is cancelled, wouldn’t you know it?!?! A news reporter is there to capture them on live television revealing their ruse. Now Brad and Kate have no choice but to visit each parent’s home on Christmas. With less than an hour and a half running time, let’s chop this up evenly, shall we? Figure there will be about 15-20 minutes devoted to each parent. Hence the title… (say it with me now) …Four Christmases.
Let’s go see Brad’s dad first, Robert Duvall, who lives with Brad’s aspiring MMA fighting brothers played by Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw. They live a simple life with a Zenith television set and Christmas presents that are purchased with a ten dollar or less limit. A gift of a satellite dish is not gonna go over well, and will likely mean a fall off the roof. Side note: doesn’t falling off a roof seem to happen a lot in Christmas movies? Also, if the bros are into MMA fighting, well you know that Brad is going to have to endure body slams galore while Kate simply gasps in shock at her boyfriend’s demise.
Transition time in this film happens in the car while going to the next Christmas celebration. Brad and Kate take these opportunities to question the purpose of their relationship. They think they have relationship troubles licked by NOT getting married and not devoting themselves to time with family, but are they kidding themselves?
Next stop is at Mary Steenburgen’s house, Kate’s mom. Kate’s older sister played by Kristin Chenoweth is here too. Kate’s agonizing childhood is brought up for laughs like attending a fat camp and reminiscing about her being the one with the cooties and fearful of bounce houses. Oh, look what’s in the backyard! A bounce house! How ironic! Know where this is going? A visit to the church of an overzealous evangelist (Dwight Yoakum), where Kate and Brad are quickly recruited to participate in the Nativity play, happens.
This is about midway through the film and I gotta say I can’t blame Brad and Kate for always lying about going somewhere else for the holidays. Who wants to live with this kind of torment? There’s some truth to the adage “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” The movie wants me to recognize the oversight of Brad and Kate and their disregard for family time, but I don’t see it. These are cruel people that they are confronted with.
Next up, let’s go see Sissy Spacek, Brad’s mom, who is sharing coitus with Brad’s high school best friend. Enough said there.
There’s more transitional driving to happen where the question of if Brad wants to get more serious about their relationship is discussed following Kate’s reveal that she took a pregnancy test. Often in films, it’s the baby factor that tests the relationships. I wish Hollywood would think outside that box a little. Having children is not the end all be all, all the time, in building a loving relationship. Components involving work, religion, and money also come into play. Mustn’t forget about love too. Just once, I’d like to see something else. So many couples live happily without children. We are even reminded how it’s rude and intrusive to ask “when are you going to have a baby?” In fact, it is rude to ask that question because it’s too standard and presumptuous. Hollywood should account for that. I digress though.
The fourth and final Christmas visit occurs at Jon Voight’s house, Kate’s dad. Not much wrong here, as we are in the final act of the movie where it’s more about a will they or won’t they conundrum for Brad and Kate. So, cue the insightful commentary from Voight dressed in a comfy blue sweater.
Look, I can’t deny it. I laughed at several moments in Four Christmases. Favreau is hilarious in his tattooed, buzz cut, intimidating presence. The Nativity play with Brad dressed as Joseph and getting caught up in the hallelujah enthusiasm is funny too. Duvall is doing his old man redneck routine like he does in Days Of Thunder, and well…c’mon it’s ROBERT DUVALL!!!!
I just wish I didn’t know what was coming from one scene to the next. In a film this structured, you don’t even have to try to predict what will happen. You have an involuntary instinct to just know.
As well, I don’t get a kick out of seeing how uncomfortable characters are made out to be when they are doing nothing but paying a visit. Poor Brad gets outnumbered by his fighting brothers and suffers the Home Alone slapstick body blows. Later, a baby spits up all over Kate’s dress, and Brad starts to dry heave at the sight of the mess. That’s not funny. That’s a shame. In life that happens. Babies spit up, but we should feel awful for the victim. How uncomfortable that must be. Kate is not Joe Pesci trying to rob a house and getting a deserving paint can to the face. Kate isn’t laughing at her misfortune. She’s in shock. Steenburgen and Chenoworth cackle hysterically, though. I can’t bring myself to do that. I feel bad for these two, and all I’m thinking is that it really sucks that they couldn’t make it to Fiji. I wish they made it to Fiji. What a shame they never got to Fiji.
Like Home Alone or Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Four Christmases wants to deliver the message that there is nothing better than to spend the holidays with the family, or get married and start a family of your own. Yet the campaign seems to defeat itself in its demonstration. I love my family and I love being married, but if I saw this film ahead of what I have now in life, twenty years going strong, I might have thought otherwise.
Quick reminder: THEIR FAMILIES ARE FRACTURED IN DIVORCE ALREADY!!!! So, all that Four Christmases tells me is TO HELL WITH FAMILY. I JUST WANNA GO TO FIJI!!!!!