' Cinema Romantico: Four Christmases

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Four Christmases

What is wrong with me? Can anyone answer this question? Do you have a solid theory? Why was I so desperate to see "Four Christmases"? I have wanted to see it for over a year, knowing full well it got absolutely slammed by critics. It didn't matter. In fact, my friend Trish and I had planned on seeing it at the luxurious Yorktown Cinema on the outskirts of Chi-town where you actually sit down to a meal while watching the movie. The high life, baby! Our schedules never meshed and it didn't happen. Tragedy averted. Except the instant "Four Christmases" became available on Netflix last month I moved it to #1 in the queue.

Alas, the last three weeks it has remained there as its expected availability has not wavered from: Very Long Wait. This should have been a sign, right? Don't watch it, Nick. DON'T WATCH IT. Why in the last couple weeks I've had friends tell me explicitly not to watch it because it was so awful. So what did I do? Fed up that it wasn't coming from Netflix I purchased for $5 from cable pay per view.

Like I was saying, what is wrong with me?

Yeah, it's bad. No hiding it. Vince Vaughn is Brad and Reese Witherspoon is Kate. They are in love but not married. They dislike their families - each of their parents is divorced - to such extremes they refuse to spend Christmas with them and are set to jet off to festive Fiji for the holidays. Fog rolls in. Flights are grounded. And, sure enough, Brad and Kate have a whole day to revel in "Four Christmases".

We can assume the families will provide "outlandish" comic entertainment: Brad's brother (Jon Favreau) is a cage fighter and his mom (Sissy Spacek) is dating his ex-best friend and Kate's mom (Mary Steenburgen) has apparently found God via Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakum, what a waste of casting!). We can also assume Brad and Kate will learn over the course of the day that perhaps they do want a committed relationship, though, of course, first Brad will have to decline this proposition, Kate will have to sulk, and Brad will return, triumphantly.

All this is handled with the smallest amount of grace. Babies throwing up and a friendly game gone awry (uh, Vince, you already did that in "The Break Up", remember?) and Vince Vaughn unsusccessfully attempting to install a satellite dish (gee, do you think he'll fall off the roof?! Heaven only knows!) does not precisely spell c-o-m-e-d-y. Even worse is the attempts at seriousness injected into the hijinks. This is what they go through to get to a deeper place in their relationship? Forgive me, but I'm not buying it.

It's sad to watch and it's sad because, well, I've always found Vince Vaughn to be a comedic actor extraordinaire. His verbal assault on the airline stewardess in "Made" is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a movie. His best moments in "Wedding Crashers" aren't merely monologues, they are Shakespearean soliloquies of hilarity. Even in the worst of his movies he is good for at least a couple of laugh-out-loud lines. ("I'll call some guys from my neck of the woods. And we're not talking about about a couple queens who know a few grapples. We're talking about Polacks that don't have a goddamn future.") Yes, even in "Four Christmases". His spiel about his childhood resembling "The Shawshank Redemption" and his questioning Kate "Are you throwing eighties songs at me?" both made me laugh. So why does resort to this sort of dreck?

I remember reading prior to the release of "The Break Up" that he said he wasn't responding to any of the romantic comedy scripts being sent to him and so he decided to develop one on his own. He was a producer on "The Break Up" and he was also a producer on "Four Christmases", on "Fred Claus", and on "Couples Retreat". These are the sorts of romantic comedies he responds to?

A couple years ago, in the wake of "Knocked Up", David Denby penned an article for The New Yorker regarding the current state of romantic comedies. In it he said the following: "Vince Vaughn, in some of his recent roles, has displayed a dazzling motormouth velocity, but he has never worked with an actress who can keep up with him. Rosalind Russell keeps up with (Cary) Grant (in "His Girl Friday"). These two seize each other’s words and throw them back so quickly that their dialogue seems almost syncopated. Balance between the sexes here becomes a kind of matched virtuosity more intense than sex."

I think I had this desire to see "Four Christmases" because I secretly wanted to believe Reese Witherspoon could keep up with Vince Vaughn. She doesn't but it's mainly because she's never given the chance. The writers (Matt Allen & Caleb Wilson and Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, burgeoning Noah Baumbachs every one) would rather have babies projectile vomit on her. There is no true verbal sparring in the movie. Why is this? Is it because filmmakers presume to know "what the people want" and that it's atrocious sight gags? Can rom com writers just not craft decent dialogue? Or are there really no actresses that can keep up with Vince Vaughn? (If only Jenna Maroney was a real person. I bet she could.)

Pardon me, Vince, if I throw an eighties song at you. (Okay, an October 1979 song. Close enough.) It goes like this: "Sending out an S.O.S." Someone has gotta help you, Vince, or, more importantly, some filmmaker has to challenge you. Get you off cruise control, place you in a movie where you getting pummeled and falling off roofs isn't the main source of laughter, present you a leading lady who can not only keep up with you but help convince the audience you're undergoing some real change.

We need to save you, Vince, we need to save you from yourself.

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