Christmas movies have a special place in my heart, but not just any Christmas movie. Sure, I enjoy the sappy, heart-warming endings that most Christmas movies wrap up with (yes, pun intended), but I hate being talked down too, like a Hallmark greeting card. I want a bit of bite to my movies, a bit of angst, humor, and as in the case of my favorite Christmas movie, Surviving Christmas, some connection to the underground pop culture as well as loveable but totally wacked out characters.
Surviving Christmas came out in 2004 to horrible reviews and a 7% rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes. It was considered a box-office bomb and was released two months later on DVD. Honestly, I wonder if critics even bothered to watch the movie. The reviews all echo each other claiming the film was a horrific waste of time, a movie with little humor and grace and to be avoided at all costs.
Featuring Ben Affleck as the eccentric millionaire Drew Latham who doesn’t want to spend Christmas alone and Christina Applegate as the snarky sarcastic daughter Alicia with James Gandolfini as the cantankerous father Tom Valco and Catherine O’Hara as his “so over it” wife Christine, the movie is hilarious from start to finish, with a stellar cast to boot.
Drew has avoided Christmas because of painful childhood memories and after his vapid girlfriend Missy breaks up with him when he presents her with first-class tickets to Fiji instead of bringing her home for Christmas to meet his family, he follows the counsel of her therapist and journeys to his childhood Chicago suburbs home to clear his heart and start afresh by writing his grievances on a piece of paper and setting them on fire in front of his childhood home, now occupied by the Valcos.
After Tom whacks Drew over the head with a snow shovel for displaying pyro tendencies, Drew bribes the family with $350,000 to be his family for the holidays, to which they readily agree considering the parents are getting ready to split up and have zero holiday cheer anyway. Drew sets about writing a script for the family to follow so it perfectly recreates his memories of his childhood Christmases past and pushes the family into re-enacting his demands with the threat of “breach of contract” hanging over their heads if they don’t.
Meanwhile, younger brother Brian stays sequestered in his room, watching porn on his computer. Look at the posters in the background of Brian’s bedroom and you will see Gearhead posters V/A Runnin’ On Fumes (the original art for this was featured also on the cover of Gearhead Magazine No. 19) and The Hellacopters Cream of the Crap (originally only available as an insert with the record but now for sale as a stand alone poster) as set dressing!
Coupled with a killer soundtrack featuring everything from Cherry Pie by Warrant and Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano Jingle Bell Rock by Chet Atkins, an off-key rendition of Oh Christmas Tree sung by Affleck and Gandolfini, and the classic Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses as well as a vintage cherry red Chevelle SS (guessing but not sure, 1970) the movie is not only smart and funny, but it has great pop culture references through out.
The script is well written, fast paced and just twisted enough to keep you laughing but not cringing. I honestly don’t know how this movie was trashed so badly unless the cretins writing about it were stuck in their own version of holiday hell. Maybe they hated it because Affleck is playing a pretty unlikable character. Or maybe because the movie doesn’t sugar coat the dysfunctional family dynamics brought out by the holidays. I have no idea, and I can’t really guess why they hated it so much.Everyone I have turned on to this movie loves it and thinks it's hilarious.
All I know is ignore the critics, track down this movie and enjoy some really funny clever moments with Surviving Christmas. And don’t forget to look for the Gearhead posters in the background!!
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,