This is the second week in a row seeing Christmas-y movies for me – not that unusual for this time of year, but a bit unusual for me personally! This one is definitely less family-friendly than Almost Christmas.
Office Christmas Party takes place over the course of about 24 hours in Chicago. Josh Parker seems to be the CTO in a software tech company that is prepping to have their annual Christmas get-together in the office after work. He’s just had his divorce finalized, and is dealing with that on top of trying to get his boss Clay Vanstone – the branch manager – to be smart about what to get the employees for their holiday gifts/bonuses. Clay took over the branch after his father died, and is more concerned about making sure the employees stay happy than doing any real work.
The mood is ruined by the surprise visit of Carol Vanstone, the acting CEO of the company in the wake of their father’s passing. She’s currently trying to make sure it’s clear to everyone on the board that she can make the company profitable so that they will vote her in as permanent CEO. She’s just closed down the Orlando branch, and drops by her brother’s branch to tell him to cut 40% of their staff in order to save money.
Josh’s employee Tracey has a program that she is working on that pulls internet from anything generating power – which would be a huge moneymaker, but it’s not quite perfected yet – so it doesn’t impress Carol. However, they have a meeting with Walter Davis, a major buyer, that afternoon, and Carol agrees that if they can bring on his business – his 40 million dollar account – they can keep everyone and stay in business, so they really need to land the account. And, she demands they cancel the Christmas party, as no excess spending will be allowed.
Clay, Josh, and Tracey meet with Walter, but he’s heard rumors of them closing branches and employees being unhappy, and that’s not the culture he wants to join with, so he declines. As a last ditch hope, they invite him to their Christmas party that evening to show him what a tight-knit and happy group of employees they have. This motivates the three to go all out with prepping and decorating the office to make the party as epic as possible. Mary from H.R. tries to keep everyone in line while Clay goes big with décor and liquor. Hijinks ensue, these include (but are not limited to), a Chicago Bull arriving, a live-animal nativity scene, an ice version of a slip-n-slide, naked people on the copies and then on the 3D printer, snow machines, crazed crowd dancing, and general all-around insanity. It reminded me of one of those clubs that Steffan on SNL used to tell you about, it has everything.
Of course, by the end of the evening (spoiler alert) the internet has gone down throughout the city, and Tracey fixes her program just in time to get internet to everyone, save the day and the company.
The movie is directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck who previously did the completely nonsensical Blades of Glory – a movie I love. This one is also really fun. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if it had gone a little further in some places and pulled it back in others. I’m not sure the directing mattered all that much, as the majority of the cast is strong improvisers, who really can play off one another indefinitely – or at least until one of them breaks.
- Jason Bateman plays Josh Parker, and has really perfected his patented good guy stressed out by those around him persona. He’s wonderful in this, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen him do before. No problem with that – this is what I want to see him doing.
- Olivia Munn plays Tracey Hughes, and she and Josh have chemistry, and thought about starting up a relationship, and now that his divorce is final – the sparks begin again. She’s pretty good in this a tech programmer who just needs the final piece of the puzzle to make her system work.
- T.J. Miller plays Clay Vanstone, and really, he’s just playing T. J. Miller – so, if you’re a fan of his, you’ll love him in this. I loved that he genuinely cared about his employees and really wanted them happy. In fact, it’s the reveal from his secretary to the others that he’s been paying for a lot from his own pockets that finally gets them to work together to save the company.
- Jennifer Aniston plays Carol Vanstone, and again – a character she has perfected, the bitchy-boss. At least she’s less crazy in this than in Horrible Bosses. Also – I love the fact that when push comes to shove, she really does love her brother and will do what she can to help him.
- Kate McKinnon plays Mary from H.R. and this is another of her oddball characters that provides some off-color hilarity to the party. I enjoyed how she kept trying to keep the party H.R. approved until it finally goes too crazy.
- Courtney B. Vance plays Walter Davis, who appears to be very conservative until he really cuts loose at the party – having the night of his life.
- Rob Corddry plays Jeremy, and nothing new from him here – standard annoying dude in the office – but I did appreciate the development of the interplay between he and H.R.Mary.
- Vanessa Bayer plays Allison, Clay’s assistant. She’s trying to keep her wits about her as the party spirals more and more out of control and the co-worker she thought she was into turns out to be a weirdo.
- Randall Park plays Fred, said weirdo. He’s pleasantly normal until he cuts loose at the party, but them redeems himself afterwards – sort of.
- Sam Richardson plays Joel, who says he has a ‘friend’ who can D.J. the party, who is actually just him. He’s hilarious and fun, and does a great job pumping up the crowd.
- Karan Soni plays Nate, and you’ve seen him in a hundred commercials by this point. Now he’s finally getting a larger role in a major movie. He’s a nice guy who has made up a fake girlfriend to impress his two employees. That of course, backfires when he hires a hooker to come to the party and pretend to be his girlfriend.
- Abbey Lee plays Savannah, the hooker slash cocaine dealer. The party gets a little bit crazier when a pack of her cocaine accidentally gets loaded into the snow-maker machines and sprayed into Walter Davis’s face.
- Jillian Bell plays Trina, Savannah’s pimp with aspirations to rob Clay. Bell is really funny, and does a great job in a role that could have been forgettable with anyone else in it.
- Jamie Chung plays Meghan, an employee who helps things spiral out of control when she posts online that the bar is open and everyone in the city should come to the party.
- Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Carla, the security guard. She’s serious about her job, serious about security, and seriously considering shutting down the Starbucks on the corner that she believes brings in a ‘bad element.’ She steals most of the scenes she’s in.
- Chicago Bulls player Jimmy Butler plays himself as a ‘celebrity’ guest at the party. Every time I’ve seen this guy I’ve been relatively impressed by his screen presence and comedy chops – so he’s definitely got an acting career in his back pocket when the basketball career is over.
Overall, the movie is hilarious, and yes, raunchy – it’s definitely a hard R, so don’t take the kids to this one. I particularly enjoyed all the employees coming together near the end to do what they could to help save the company and rescue Clay. It's not original, and none of the actors are stretching at all, they're mostly staying safely inside their respective boxes. But when their boxes are suited to this type of comedy - go with it. It's a bit of a mindless comedy, but every once in a while, that is exactly what you need. And of course, the best part is the outtakes over the end credits. This cast is so skilled at improvising, I would imagine there are tons of outtakes somewhere, so I wish there had been even more of them!
7 out of 10 – Gained points for overall hilarity – lost points for the bathroom orgies – yes plural.
Bonus – cast interviews…
Behinds the scenes fun...