Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) has had the best Christmas present ever - he's just been divorced! Well, technically it's not really Christmas, but it will be soon, and as he leaves the office of his lawyer (where they are holding a morning party to ensure nobody gets drunk and therefore sued) he tries to feel upbeat about the holiday season. The trouble is, at his own place of work there is a threat hanging over them because their branch of this technology company has not been as productive as head office would like them to be, and the rumour is even the office party is in question to save money. The boss, Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), tries to be everyone's friend, but his sister, the CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston), has no time for politeness or indulgence. Could Christmas be cancelled?
Making a Christmas movie should be easy, as the threshold for entertainment is lowered considerably when it's Yuletide: how often have you watched a festive flick well aware it's not terribly good, but in the hope that it'll get you in some low level of mood? Or just because it's the holidays and you might as well sit there on the couch and watch this this until it's finished, you know it's a cheap TV movie they've just put Christmas references in to guarantee some airplay at the season to be jolly, but dammit, you will see this to the happy ending since you don't have anything else useful to do right now? It's a different matter making one of these that is actually not bad, or even great.
Office Christmas Party was not great, and it was largely ignored when it was released in cinemas at Christmas 2016, mostly because Rogue One had packed out the auditoriums and this did not seem to be a must-see by any means. It quickly became a target for the bah humbug brigade who saw nothing but a cynical cash-in on getting some of that Noel money (is that a phrase?), and the fact that it was in cheerful bad taste was another minus: not only commercial, but crassly commercial into the dubious bargain. However, then something unexpected happened: there was a revolt against the naysayers, not a major one, but enough to consider it worth a look for those who paused over it.
In truth, while this was no classic overlooked unfairly, it had a lot more laughs than you might have anticipated if you simply went with its efforts to drag humour out of Christmas dejection. This was under no impression that the enforced fun of a party at that time of year was anything but a tyranny on those who didn't feel like it by those determined to feel good, and taking that as its jumping off point, that you may be at a party now but come January you have to face up to the fact it's business as usual and that job you have is a bit shit, in truth, provided a surprisingly sympathetic note to base the comedy on. There were no real villains here, not even Carol, just the corporate atmosphere that is proving so toxic to so many workers that the chance to let their hair down in at the end of December doesn't quite cut it.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck assembled, if not an A-list cast, then a group of dependable talents who you may recognise from elsewhere, you may not, but were all on the same page as far as generating the chuckles went, we knew where we were with this lot and by and large they did not disappoint. Miller was his patented manchild, trying to gee everyone up as the impending loss of their incomes loomed, Bateman was the straightman to all the antics, and Olivia Munn was the sensible one you knew would be romantically interested in him before the end credits rolled; she played his colleague who has invented a science fictional method of creating wi-fi from ordinary electrical objects (plot foreshadowing!). Courtney B. Vance was the man who could potentially rescue the office with a business deal, so this party has to be the best evah; the fact it ends up as an apocalyptic bacchanalia was to be expected, and if there was a lot obvious here, they managed to pull some pretty funny lines and situations out of the (Santa) hat. Maybe not a classic, but a cult favourite for those who appreciated the effort everyone showed was on the (Christmas) cards. Music by Theodore Shapiro.
[Entertainment One's Blu-ray has a making of and deleted scenes as extras.]