Take away the tinsel and the turkey and what you have here is a basic rom-com with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon in the lead roles, playing a couple who have been coasting along very happily until one Christmas they have to visit all four of their parental homes instead of successfully just getting away from it all for another year. Uncomfortable truths come out, family members remind the couple of just why they stay away from these gatherings and tensions rise, placing a huge strain on the relationship. But just how strong IS the relationship anyway?
With about four writers involved, and input from everyone who shared experiences of past Christmases, and the presence of Vince “motormouth” Vaughn you’d expect a share of funny lines in this movie and you get them. That’s the good news.
I like Vaughn, I think his verbal dexterity and his usual onscreen attitude is hilarious, so this movie benefits from his presence. Reese Witherspoon is also a performer I have liked in almost everything she’s done so no problem there either. And the supporting cast is pretty stellar, you’ve got Robert Duvall (being pretty damn hilarious, it has to be said), Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight and Dwight Yoakam for starters. There’s also a cameo for Peter Billingsley, making the movie feel as if it has some secret Christmas movie seal of approval.
Director Seth Gordon doesn’t do anything majorly wrong but it’s one of those movies with nothing majorly right either. The plotting is predictable, and obviously episodic due to the couple having to visit the four different households (in fact, by the halfway mark I felt as if I was watching some strange Christmas-related anthology movie), and it’s one of those decidedly average rom-coms that takes no risks at all. None. You will be able to guess the ending from the first five minutes, despite an amusing footnote tacked on.
With a lot of improv involved, and some obvious set-ups for later gags, you’d be forgiven for expecting something very ill-fitting and hit-and-miss but I must say that it’s the script and delivery of the one-liners that really helps Four Christmases sparkle. A number of moments with Vince Vaughn had me laughing out loud and one sentence from the character of Gram-Gram had me floored, the delivery and Vaughn’s reaction to it were hysterical. It’s a shame that all of the big laughs occur in the first half of the movie, the latter half has the occasional good moment (Favreau and his wife, played by Katy Mixon, playing Taboo is hilarious) but has to wind it’s way to that foregone conclusion and therefore suffers because of it.
Like visiting your crazy aunt who buys gifts for all of her cats every Christmas, this isn’t one you necessarily want to get to often but it provides some unexpected fun throughout its runtime.
DIRECTOR: SETH GORDON
CAST: VINCE VAUGHN, REESE WITHERSPOON, ROBERT DUVALL, JON FAVREAU, MARY STEENBURGEN, SISSY SPACEK
RUNTIME: 88 MINS APPROX