December 17, 2008

Four Christmases Review

It's not often than Mother Employer treats us to free popcorn and a movie as she did yesterday.

In fact it's never happened before.

Which made me nervous in the way I get on those bi-annual occasions when my wife cooks dinner, something she only does when she has bad news and wants to soften it. (Such as news of an unexpected family gathering - just a joke.)

I was thinking layoffs in this case but hope it's just the result of low "engagement" scores. Or it could be simply what it was said to be, a celebratory occasion for our hard work in '08.

Not that I'm complaining. It's never a bad day to get paid to see a movie even though my expectations were low since I hadn't seen a good movie with "Christmas" in the title since "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas". But surprise was the order of the day as this one combined hilarity with an excellent message.

The premise was an unmarried couple coming from dysfunctional families who have decided to "break the cycle" and not have any children since bad parenting is said to be passed down from one generation to the next*.

When the parents find out the couple is not skipping Christmas for charitable causes (helping the poor in Burma I think was the excuse) they go on a grueling family gathering tour. Both parents are divorced so they go to four Christmases in one night, a purgatorial experience that changes them sort of the way Scrooge was changed by a visit from ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

In this case, the visits began with a Neanderthal-like family - his father and two brothers and sister-in-law - who were simultaneously ridiculously over-the-top and yet strangely believable. It takes really good acting to play a white trash family so gothically cartoonish and to have it come off as utterly believable. And yet Robert Duval and company pull it off marvelously. The casting in this film is brilliant.

The other families are more upscale but no less over-the-top. There's a scorching send-up of a Christmas worship service as entertainment concert with the preacher coming on stage to smoke machines and music like something out of the WWF.

Reese Witherspoon is wonderful as always and has a great scene in which she faces her childhood fears, but the star of the show is the verbose Vince Vaughn who I had no idea was that funny. I'd seen him elsewhere but never even thought of him as a comedic actor. One of my favorite lines was when he describes his upbringing as being like the Shawshank Redemption only without the gentle black man leading the way out. And seeing his family you buy it; you think the Shawshank Redemption was a movie where the protagonists in prison were spoiled!

Anyway this is a hilarious movie with a strong pro-family message.

* - On a serious note, I'd never thought of having children as an act of faith in God. I read something recently from the NFP literature that emphasizes this: "Let's face it, our estimate of our future wealth and capabilities tends to be much more pessimistic than God's. Faith tells us that God can do anything; His power is limitless."

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