One of the more objectionable modern Christmas movies is the 2008 endeavour Four Christmases. This Yuletide rom-com is directed by Seth Gordon from a screenplay Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, and Scott Moore. It is a vehicle for the homespun services of stars Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn and it has a lot in common with the execrable Christmas with the Kranks.
Like the aforementioned 2004 comedy, Four Christmases insists on presenting a couple of infuriating characters – right out of the box. This movie insists on having the audience cheer them on as they venture through four holiday celebrations and meander toward their own version of conventional happiness.
Vaughn is Brad and Witherspoon is Kate and they’re a couple in love. They hate the idea of marriage and family and make no bones about sharing their worldview, even with a couple on the verge of matrimony at a dance class. The two high-fliers have also been avoiding traditional family Christmas celebrations on account of their respective clans splitting up via divorce.
When a trip to Fiji is cancelled due to fog and Brad and Kate end up on the news, their deceptive cover is blown and they’re forced to celebrate the titular four Christmases. Will the arrogant snots from the city learn the value of family and tradition during these frantic celebrations? Or will they continue their selfish reindeer games?
There is, of course, nothing wrong with a couple choosing to live however they want. If Brad and Kate are happier without the “knot” of marriage and don’t want to bring children into the world, so be it. Unfortunately, placing such characters in the confines of a rom-com means making such characters so egocentric as to make them intolerable.
This is the same tactic employed by Joe Roth’s Christmas with the Kranks, where the lead couple rejects Christmas after the departure of their daughter. In Four Christmases, the absence of said family ties leads to an abundance of vanity which in turn contends that the lead couple lies and scrooges their way through existence.
Gordon’s film is comprised of four visits, more or less. Up first is Brad’s father, played by Robert Duvall. Brad has two brothers, played by Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw, and they’re cage fighters. They live a stereotypical redneck life, complete with Katy Mixon as a very pregnant wife and a meal that’s comprised of Doritos and spray cheese because that’s what rednecks do.
These tedious stereotypes are flipped when it’s time to visit Kate’s mom (Mary Steenburgen), who is love with her pastor (Dwight Yoakam). She’s surrounded by archetypes, like the promiscuous Courtney (Kristin Chenoweth) and her closeted husband. Kate was chubby as a child and is made fun of because it’s Christmas. She also fights children in a bouncy castle, which isn’t as funny as it sounds.
Later, it’s off to see Brad’s mom (Sissy Spacek). She’s kind of a hippie or something, plus she’s drilling Brad’s best friend (Patrick Van Horn). They play board games, which presents yet another opportunity to prove how awful a couple Brad and Kate are.
Everything concludes with a compulsory visit to Jon Voight’s house, where everyone learns what they need to learn and discovers that the messy business of family is magical precisely because it’s messy. No relationship lasts, but Brad and Kate owe it to themselves to dive in anyway because it’s a Christmas movie and that’s how things work.
Four Christmases has a good cast. Duvall and Vaughn have a nice scene toward the end of the movie and Spacek is fun to watch. It’s a shame she wasn’t asked to do more. But honestly, the movie stinks. The comedy is muddled, the obligatory message is exasperating and the protagonists are abhorrent and hard to care about. There is, however, baby vomit. So, that’s something.