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Four Christmases (2008)

by on 2010/12/18

“You can’t spell families without l-i-e-s.”

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How could I tell just watching the first three minutes of Four Christmases that I could not be friends (ever) with the two protagonists? Walk The Line’s Reese Witherspoon plays Kate, the lovely, urbane live-in girlfriend to Brad, the smarmy, ever-amusing Vince Vaughn.

Brad and Kate play naughty games at bars, book couples’ massages and take ballroom dancing lessons. Affluent, successful and attractive, they enjoy a life of self-indulgence that only a DINK (double income no kids) existence can afford.

Maybe I’m jealous. Wait … ballroom dancing? No, not really.

Both vocally and violently hate marriage due to their own (we soon discover) hilariously dysfunctional upbringings, and go elaborately out of their way to avoid their respective families during the holidays. This year, they’ve planned a couples getaway in Fiji at Christmas, telling their families that they are volunteering their time inoculating babies in Burma.

Unfortunately a fog rolls in on the day of their flight and a TV remote camera crew broadcasts the stranded pair on live TV, exposing their web of lies and setting their cell phones a-ringing like silver Christmas bells. To placate their miffed parents – each divorced, ensconced in new homes and new relationships – Kate and Brad are now forced to endure four Christmas visits with their families.

Establishing a safe word “mistletoe” and promising that “no matter what happens today” they will still love each other, they drive to door No. 1: Brad’s father’s home.

Robert Duvall plays Brad’s awful father, Jon Favreau is Brad’s terrible brother, Denver, and Tim McGraw is Brad’s other horrendous brother, Dallas. Named for the cities they were “conceived in,” Dallas and Denver reveal that Brad’s real name is in fact …wait for it … Orlando.

In his father’s living room, a nightmare of wood panelling and sports trophies, Brad/Orlando is wrestled to the ground in a head lock by testosterone-addled Denver. Unnerved and disoriented, Brad tells Kate that his brothers are “semi professional cage fighters” regularly battling in bouts that are “like cock-fighting with dudes.”

In the ensuing chaos, Brad battles gravity and loses, alienates his father’s entire extended household and … let me see, starts a fire.

Fire still blazing, Brad and Kate speed away to door No. 2: Kate’s mother’s home. What’s waiting behind door No. 2? A smoldering cauldron of female sensuality and strangeness. Mom is Mary Steenburgen from Elf is dating someone named Pastor Phil, played by the ever-creepy Dwight Yoakam sporting his now-trademark greasy comb over.

Mom’s new-found religiosity, grandma’s troubling sexual advances toward Brad and sister Courtney’s frank and open breast-feeding make for another hilariously awkward visit. Brad finds out Kate’s childhood nickname was Cootie Kate, spent quality time at fat camp and had a bi-curious relationship in high school. After battling kids in an inflatable castle, exchanging “spiritual gifts” in a prayer circle, performing in an incredibly awkward nativity concert, Brad and Kate, now on even more shaky relationship ground, flee to the next house.

Door No. 3 is Brad’s mom, played by Sissy Spacek of Carrie (1976). Mom’s shacked up with Brad’s best boyhood friend, Darryl (Patrick Van Horn). Weird sexual innendos between Darryl and Brad’s mom, and a painful board game later, and Brad and Kate find their relationship in serious jeopardy.

Door No. 4 is Kate’s dad Jon Voight. Kate finds herself attending this final visit solo and questioning her major life choices.

As I write this, I’m smacking myself for not noticing Steve Wiebe’s cameo. I love Steve Wiebe, the high-scoring Donkey Kong champion and family man. Seth Gordon, the director of Four Christmases, also directed the outstanding (and enraging)  The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007).

Four Christmases wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch but there are worse ways to spend 88 minutes of your life. For me, dyfunction feels like home.

* * *

PG-13 for sexual humour, washroom sex and Robert Duvall

88 minutes

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