Does the Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon comedy deserve the coal that critics put in its stocking?

By Derek Lawrence
November 20, 2020 at 01:41 PM EST
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Credit: Everett Collection

Four Christmases

type
  • Movie

Two years ago, I pitched an "In defense of" Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way, which currently boasts a not-so-robust 16-percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Upon getting the greenlight from my editors, I rewatched what young Derek deemed a Christmas classic. The end credits rolled, and I sat for a moment in silence, wondering, "Was that actually worthy of my defense?" I soon realized that, yes, any movie bold enough to have the future Governator punch a reindeer in the face deserved its day in court. And minus the knocked-out reindeer, that's the exact rollercoaster I went on with Four Christmases.

Released in November 2008, the Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon holiday comedy was a legit hit, dethroning Twilight on its opening weekend on the way to a run of more than $160 million worldwide. Four Christmases wasn't nearly as well-received by critics, who put coal in the film's stocking via a 25-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (take that, Arnold!), including a THR review calling it "one of the most joyless Christmas movies ever" with "an unearned feel-good ending [that] adds insult to injury."

Yikes, there nothing feel-good about that insult. Call me a sucker for poorly-reviewed holiday comedies, but here's the merry case for Four Christmases!

Nice chemistry between stars

In 2008, casting Vaughn and Witherspoon meant you were pairing maybe Hollywood's biggest comedy star with a recent Oscar-winning actress who had more than already proved her own comedy bonafides. As Brad and Kate, a couple convinced that marriage isn't for them, Vaughn and Witherspoon capture a believable dynamic that, like any relationship, can quickly switch from fun to strained. Together, they can shine in a spicy role play encounter, or, separately, they can earn laughs with Vaughn losing it over the sight of vomit and Witherspoon getting the crap beat out of her in a jumping castle.

Naughty chemistry between stars

And yet, the duo might be even better actors than we thought, considering reports suggesting that they did not get along during filming. The tension was apparently so bad that a scripted sex scene was scrapped over it. Honestly, though, stories of drama only add to the legacy of a film. But I would love to know if either of them ever got so annoyed that, like their characters, they called for safe word "mistletoe."

A merry supporting cast

Having stars the caliber of Vaughn and Witherspoon to help market a film is a great start, but an even better sales pitch might be the impressive roster assembled around the leads. Among Four Christmases' supporting actors are Kristen Chenoweth, Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Tim McGraw, Katy Mixon, Dwight Yoakam, Carol Kane, I guess Jon Voight if we have to, and Christmas movie queen Mary Steenburgen.

Feeling at home for the holidays

Maybe it's just the child of divorce in me, but this multiple Christmas concept hits home. And now in 2020, a year where many might not be able to safely go home, it's nice to relive the fun (and trauma) of family holidays.

Ranking the houses I’d want to spend Christmas at:

  1. Kate’s mom (who wouldn't want to hang with Queen Mary?)
  2. Kate’s dad (as long as there's no politics talk, especially Jon Voight politics talk)
  3. Brad’s mom (it's saying something about the home of Brad's dad that I'd rather be with my ex-best friend who is now dating my mother)
  4. Brad’s dad (I would very much like not to be welcomed to the Octagon, son!)

What we need under the Christmas tree

Every Christmas, my family spends close to 24 straight hours at my grandparents' house. This tradition includes attempting to horrify our grandmother by watching as vulgar a comedy as possible, with The Hangover and The Interview being among past viewings. While Four Christmases doesn't rise to the same inappropriate level as those two, the point is that sometimes we need to push the boundaries of a traditional Christmas movie for the whole family (see Harold & Kumar 3 or The Night Before). But, with an opening scene that features role playing and public bathroom sex, Four Christmases gets risqué enough to earn some points for effort.

So, this holiday, give Four Christmases the gift of a second chance and then decide if I should have just skipped this and instead defended Last Christmas again. Or maybe just watch this vomit and laughter inducing scene.

To read more on holiday film favorites, order the December issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Four Christmases

type
  • Movie
mpaa
  • PG-13
runtime
  • 89 minutes
director
  • Seth Gordon

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