How do you go from a movie so awful that it induced fans to print up T-shirts proclaiming “I Survived Gigli,” and get worse?
Ben Affleck answered that question last week, bringing the putrid Surviving Christmas to torture multiplexes all across the nation and adding yet another tombstone to his struggling filmography.
Starting with an inauspicious October opening for a Christmas movie and featuring a star whose last decent movie, Changing Lanes, came in 2002, this film was headed for disaster from the beginning, and still managed to grab James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate and Catherine O’Hara (the Home Alone mom) to bring down with it.
In what can only be called a statement of the obvious, the trivia section for Surviving Christmas on the Internet Movie Database Web site admits the film was “shot without a completed script. As a result, there were many delays and arguments over what to shoot.”
Affleck reeks of desperation and overacts to cosmic ends. He bounds, grins and acts like a bipolar Prozac fiend. It’s an embarrassing display watching our Oscar winner fail to hit notes that a child actor could hit.
It’s an unfortunate coincidence that a week after Jennifer Lopez offers the worst performance of her career as an emotionless ballroom dancer in Shall We Dance?, Affleck shows up and tramples her performance like the Godzilla of bad acting.
Affleck’s worthwhile movies like Changing Lanes and Chasing Amy, and his supporting roles in films like Good Will Hunting, Boiler Room and Shakespeare in Love are starting to feel like aberrations instead of the norm. Those roles are being washed away in a sea of Gigli and other recent flops like Daredevil, Paycheck and Jersey Girl.
Looking over Affleck’s film career is like checking wounds, whoever thinks names can never hurt you should check the critical thrashings he’s received at the hands of Bounce, The Sum of All Fears. And who could ever forget the Pearl Harbor debacle?
He never learns, and I’m beginning to doubt whether he can even read, because these scripts are downright moronic. The laughably stupid plot Affleck’s got himself into this time (without laughs but filled to the brim with stupidity) is about a lonely advertising executive, Drew Latham, who gets dumped before Christmas and instead of being alone, desperately seeks someone to spend Christmas with.
That leads him back to his boyhood home and the new family living there, the Valcos. After trying unsuccessfully to impose himself on the family, he offers them $250,000 to spend the next three days with them. They unfortunately accept.
The next three days are filled with trivial, boring moments like Gandolfini’s Tom Valco putting up a fuss over having to wear a Santa hat for a couple hours and Drew eating his roast beef. It’s all a setup, though, for having Christina Applegate’s Alicia fall for our brainless hero.
On top of everything, this tedious film actually has the gall to name a character Doo-Dah. There’s no script, no morals and no meaning, unless the idea of spending $250,000 to find your true love means something to you.
The most fitting display coming from the screen is James Gandolfini’s range of emotions. He starts off curiously wondering how this is going to go but quickly changes over to anger, boredom and finally just wonders where his money is.
There’s nothing redeemable to this film. It tried to be funny, poignant and sincere, and failed at everything. It’s abrasive and lacking rationale. Watching this film is like gagging on eggnog for an hour and a half. You’d be surprised just how long 90 minutes can be.
So be good for goodness sake, or Santa might put Surviving Christmas in your stocking this year.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.