In movies like Office Christmas Party, character is not a thing that evolves, technical craft is an afterthought, and premise and plot are utterly incidental. It’s individual moments that matter. And if those individual moments work – if they’re frequent enough, and quotable, and demonstrate that the performers are operating in service of the material (and not the other way around) – even a generic raunchy comedy with a flimsy plot and obsequious point of view can be great.
The paper-thin plot that strings together this particular flick’s plethora of individual moments involves two siblings fighting over the fate of a tech firm branch and its two-hundred employees. The elder sister played by Jennifer Aniston wants, for no plausible reason, to shut it down. The younger brother, a fuck-up with the heart of gold who of course is played by T.J. Miller, wants to keep it open. And somewhere in the middle of it all is poor Jason Bateman, repurposing his Michael Bluth straight-man routine for the umpteenth time.
So, yeah, the employees have to throw a wild party to win a big account to stay in business and get their bonuses and of course everything goes hilariously wrong—sex, drugs, and shenanigans ensue. But, like I said, premise and plot don’t matter. Where much of the comedy comes from, in this case, isn’t the context or subversion of expectations, but rather from the expansive cast of characters, whose two-dimensionality is put to good use.
Those characters are brought to life by an all-star team of comedians and actors who, it seems, were each apportioned a small share of screen-time and simply instructed to do what they do best. The result is uneven, tonally inconsistent, but pretty entertaining.
Just like she does each week on Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon demonstrates a sort of razor-sharp theatrical competence that steals every single scene (after only a couple seasons on SNL, she has already become one of my all-time favorite performers). Jillian Bell does the same honour-student-gone-bad routine that she did in 22 Jump Street, but does it so well that it still feels somehow surprising. Courtney B. Vance even shows up as the big fish client, and goes from zero to eleven with such total commitment that it feels like this might be one of those inflection-point roles that earns him regular gigs with Adam McKay or Judd Apatow.
And then there’s you.
Your scene is short. And you’re only really delivering one joke. But it’s a good joke, and expertly delivered. In a film built on individual moments, it might be the best of the bunch. As the chatty Uber driver who can’t quite reconcile Jennifer Aniston’s name with her face, your presence was truly unexpected. A little jolt of comedic caffeine, just when the film needs it.
Does Office Christmas Party have enough of these moments to be great? Not quite. But you and the rest of the cast did your best to tip the scales, and, for a flick like this, seeing that effort can be enough to win over a crowd.