A Chicago winter turns even bleaker for the office drones at a tech company when their CEO (Jennifer Aniston) tries to shutter the branch managed by her merry brother, Clay (T.J. Miller). Thus their traditional office Christmas shindig takes on a more urgent — and debauched — tone, as Clay Vanstone and his CTO (Jason Bateman) attempt to use the yuletide bacchanal to woo a major client (Courtney B. Vance). If that seems like a pretty A-list cast for such a lowbrow film concept, you’re right. “It’s like a Fireball shot served in a very, very nice glass,” says co-director Will Speck.
That glass includes appearances by Saturday Night Live stars Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer, Veep actor Matt Walsh, and Fresh Off the Boat dad Randall Park. “This cast is insane in the membrane, in terms of how great it is,” Miller says. “To list my favorite people to work with would be to list the entire cast except for me. I don’t get along much with myself.”
In the middle of the spanning ensemble is the familial dynamic between Clay and his sister Carol (Aniston), an antagonistic rapport that dates back to their childhood — like most sibling beefs. “That in part comes from Clay being the younger brother that always got to get away with everything and got to be fun guy, and his older sister had to be the grown-up,” Miller explains. “That’s why she took over as CEO of the company, and he just remained president of the branch his father started.” Though she’s the more mature Vanstone, Speck and co-director Josh Gordon tease more of a Horrible Bosses Aniston than a Friends one.
Clay will have a co-conspirator in Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn), an employee in the IT department. (In the trailer, she proffers a joint to romantic interest Josh with a mischievous grin.) And with a comedic supporting role under her belt (Ride Along 2), coupled with her earlier career gig as host of pop culture talk show Attack of the Show! (and a Daily Show stint), Munn stood strong with the traditional comedy vets.
“She has a great DNA, the balance between being sophisticated and having a real head on her shoulders, but also being able to know that things can always have a comedic slant to them, just as a person,” Speck says. “She knows how to play within that subtle humor space in a way that is very believable, which is important to us.”
“It was a really strong female character independent, forward-thinking, progressive, ambitious, and even more prone to take risks compared to Jason Bateman’s character is willing to.” Miller says of Munn’s character. “I think that’s why Clay and her get along: They both are more open to risk and the idea of failure in the hopes of gaining some ideological goal.”
As for Clay, don’t expect Miller to come through with another spin at his Silicon Valley standout character. “He doesn’t think like Erlich Bachman, that you have to be an a–hole to get ahead,” Miller says. “He cares about other people, other people having a great time. He cares about people not taking life too seriously. He cares about people over profits — he’s really proud of his branch of the company. “
Along with this goal is an event rife with eggnog luges, flaming Christmas tree lancing, and “a threesome that may or may not involve a reindeer,” Miller teases. The concerned HR rep (McKinnon) encourages those seeking, um, intimate encounters to participate in the adjacent Rite Aid’s parking lot. The unhinged drug-fueled fete strives to hit the full John Landis jackpot, by injecting some warmth and empathy for the office’s endearing chumps.
“It’s A Christmas Story mixed with Animal House,” Miller says. “I hope people will want to see it every Christmas — or every other Christmas, because I am hard to look at.”
Office Christmas Party pours its first drink Dec. 9.
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