When you look back on December 2016, five years doesn’t seem like that long of a time. But watching Office Christmas Party, you realize so much has changed in this country. In late 2016, Donald Trump had just barely won the presidential campaign, and the MeToo movement was still a year away from becoming a viral sensation. While political correctness was always finding a way to rear its ugly head, it was just an infant compared to the “cancel culture” that’s developed and taken over our media in the meantime, where if you say one thing that’s politically incorrect or make one mistake, your career is presumably over. Yet this movie’s satire on the PC police in 2016, as well as half the things that are said just wouldn’t fly today in 2021. The message would either be offensive or go over peoples’ heads.

It’s just too bad the theme is not quite realized, as the filmmakers seem more concerned with showing us a crazy, over-the-top office party than with providing real commentary. While this movie is very much anti-PC, you just wish it stuck to its guns better.

Our main character is Josh Parker, played by Jason Bateman, who is a Chief Technical Officer for a tech company in Chicago. The company’s CEO, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston), has just informed them that their branch has failed to meet its quarterly quota and will be shut down. The branch manager, Clay (T.J. Miller), who is also Carol’s sister, is distraught. He’s more along the lines of Michael Scott with his managerial strategies. He just wants everyone to like him and wants to have a good time in the process. He lacks the self-awareness and maturity that Carol deems necessary when running a branch, so she also kind of sees this fate as a punishment for him.

Josh and Clay have the idea to land a big client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), but Davis says that he’s not attracted to the stodgy, boring culture established at their company, perpetuated by Carol herself. So Clay has the idea to throw a massive company Christmas party—which Carol had cancelled—to show Davis that the culture is very much alive.

Office Christmas Party reeks of a cart-before-the-horse mentality, shoehorning in any story it can seem to find. It’s unfortunate because the writers already had something with the political correctness commentary. That’s your plot. But even still, the hook doesn’t quite come quickly enough, perhaps due to the concern of making us also care about its character beforehand to counteract the shaky premise it’s come up with. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t know how to organically craft character investment and we often feel like we’re being manipulated to care about Josh, Clay, and the others.

The only one who can surpass these limitations is Miller, who does a good job as the charismatic company screw-up. He plays the role well and we do end up rooting for him. Typical straight-man, Bateman, is thrown into the mix with nothing to do.

The humor is non-stop, but the jokes are almost entirely forgettable, with no takeaways as the credits have begun rolling. There are a lot of characters, so maybe this is just a result of too many comedic styles thrown together and clashing. This isn’t always a problem in movies, but here, the filmmakers never establish any sort of comedic identity. You usually have your star help with that. In this case, it’s Bateman, whose talents are wasted even as he oversees a group of fools.

It’s an oddity, since directorial duo Josh Gordon and Will Speck have teamed with Bateman before in the hilarious 2010 comedy The Switch. Aniston was in that movie too, but she’s operating with a different responsibility here as the antagonist.

Office Christmas Party doesn’t really warrant repeated viewings, but, when it can be found, is a funny jab at the PC culture we’re living in now, since it’s a movie that may not have been able to be made even a few months later. In that regard, it’s respectable. But also, you just wish there were more to chew on with those ideas.

About the Author: Ethan Brehm

Ethan Brehm

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