Ben Affleck has performed a remarkable career turnaround in the past few years, re-establishing his credibility as both an actor and director with such recent fare as “Gone Girl” and the Oscar-winning “Argo”. It’s hard to believe that he was once one of the most reviled and derided actors in Hollywood. Well, in holiday miracle that probably owes more to Krampus than jolly old Saint Nicholas, “Surviving Christmas” will make you hate Ben Affleck all over again.
Wealthy advertising executive Drew Latham (Affleck) surprises his girlfriend Missy (Jennifer Morrison) with tickets for a tropical Fiji vacation for the Holidays but she is horrified because Christmas is a family time. Taking his reluctance to spend time with his family or even introduce her to them as a sign that he has no intentions to settle down, she dumps him and Drew faces the prospect of Christmas on his own. When his address book of acquaintances fails to provide a route to Christmas companionship, he finds himself on the front steps of his childhood home, now the residence of the Valco family. Impulsively, he offers the Valcos $250,000 is they will agree to be his family for the Holidays.
Affleck is at his most disinterestedly charmless here, and his Drew Latham is a deeply unsympathetic and superficial character. There’s a sleepy-eyed smugness to his performance that prevents you from developing any kind of sympathy for him. His decisions seem arbitrary and forced, shunting the plot along from one bone-headed event to the next. The Valcos, his surrogate family, have their own issues to wrestle with but at no point does either party learn from each other, grow or form any kind of convincing rapport. The late James Gandolfini seems dispiritedly resigned to enduring the film while Catherine O’Hara seems to be suffering a kind of maternal purgatory for her sins as Mrs McAllister in the “Home Alone” series. Famously, the film was shot without ever having a completed script. Much of it was improvised, and it shows especially in scenes where Affleck visibly flounders as he tries to give his character some kind of back story. I guess Matt Damon must have done most of the heavy lifting on the script of “Good Will Hunting”.
Affleck’s character is never less than obnoxious and doesn’t change or grow at all during the course of the movie, save for an improbable Damascene conversion right at the end to facilitate a bafflingly unlikely romance with the Valco’s daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate).
Joyless, charmless and utterly lacking in even the smallest amount of seasonal magic “Surviving Christmas” is a 91 minute one-movie war on Christmas. If this film provides the darkness and pain Affleck will be mining for his portrayal of the Dark Knight, then we’re in for quite a treat in “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice”.