This past week I had the opportunity to see a screening of Office Christmas Party, the only holiday themed film released theatrically this holiday season. Office Christmas Party takes place in a Chicago branch of Zenotek, a company that makes routers and other internet/networking equipment. Clay (T.J. Miller) is the manager of the branch and also the son of the former owner of the whole company. I say former owner because his father died and now his older sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the acting CEO. Clay loves the company and loves his branch, but he isn’t the best leader so his branch is falling below the bar and is in danger of being shut down by Carol.
Clay and his main tech people Josh and Tracey have one last chance to keep the branch open and the employees employed; they have to book a big client. The client is Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). After an unsuccessful lunch meeting with Walter, the team invites him to their office Christmas party. The hope is that Walter will see how much Zenotek cares for its employees, have a great time at the party and be inspired to give them the contract.
The advertisements may lead audiences to believe that this film is just an insane party filled with the most absurd chaos; kind of like The Hangover but as a holiday party. This is not accurate. There are insane and ridiculous things that occur at the party and it is holiday themed, but instead of just ludicrous situation after ludicrous situation there is an actual story. What really makes this film fun is the characters. The greatest and most memorable moments are character inspired, which makes sense since the cast is an ensemble of comedic talent.
The ensemble begins with Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Horrible Bosses) as Josh. Though the film is an ensemble, Josh is really our in for the movie. He is the regular guy that we root for because of his big heart and sensible take on the situation. T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Silicon Valley) as Clay is the kind of character he is known for playing, dry and quick witted. Olivia Munn (X-Men Apocalypse, Magic Mike) as Tracey convincingly delivers techno jargon and her own brand of sarcastic wit. Jennifer Aniston (Horrible Bosses) as Carol is cruel, sassy and violent in a way that seems very natural to her. Playing Walter Davis, Courtney B. Vance (The People v O.J. Simpson) gets crazy in a way I have never seen go once he hits the party. Kate McKinnon (SNL, Ghostbusters 2016) approaches Mary the HR head in the same way she does with all of her characters; slightly removed from reality. Vanessa Bayer (SNL) unfortunately doesn’t get much to do other than react to craziness around her as she comes off as the most normal character. Randall Park is not in the film long, but his make-out scene with Vanessa Bayer is both disturbing and memorable. Karan Soni (Deadpool) is another character that we root for as he perfectly plays the guy that everyone picks on in the office. And finally Jillian Bell (22 Jumpstreet, The Night Before) is always fun to watch, but again is playing a character familiar to her as she plays Trina the pimp.
Office Christmas Party is fun in a way most films are not nowadays. It has moments of shock and absurdity, but doesn’t rely on them. A character comedy with a heart, just in time for the holidays. Rated R.