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Culture Reviews
Surviving Christmas / By M. Mitchell /
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
Affleck. This name can either draw a smile or a frown on someone’s face as soon as it is muttered. As for me, I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Sure, it received purely negative reviews when it was released stateside, but I don’t care – most of his movies garner negative reviews. Long-time female fans seem to love him for his looks or acting ability.

I don’t particularly care for Affleck’s acting ability, or his looks, but I’ve been a long-time fan of the guy. No, I don’t mean with the movies “Armageddon” or “Good Will Hunting”. My favourite Affleck movie would have to be “Chasing Amy”. Although I have followed his career for a while now, starting with his debut as the high school bully on “Dazed and Confused” and just a little later as the department store bully in “Mallrats”.

The problem with Affleck is that people expect too much from him and put him in the wrong kinds of movies. I’d like to take the position that Affleck is gold if you put him in smart movies where he can show off his natural talents as a rough, wisecracking bully. In terms of comedy, well, he does have a great face for it.

In “Surviving Christmas”, we get to witness Affleck’s comedic talent once again. The concept sounds intriguing: Affleck plays Drew Latham, a multimillionaire in the advertising business. Faced with the sadness of spending Christmas by his lonesome, Drew takes a ride to his childhood home and meets the acquaintance of the family living there. The family, especially the father Tom (James Gandolfini), doesn’t necessarily greet him with open arms, but it is enough for Drew to consider it a normal household.

Drew is impressed enough at the family and the idea of spending his Christmas with them and his old home, to draw on the nostalgic pool. Whereas once the family is almost hostile to Drew, things change quickly when he decides to rent them for the holidays, offering to pay them a cool $250,000! Much of the comedy in the movie occurs in the next few scenes, where we witness Drew bully and abuse the poor family (they have contractually agreed to service him).

Things get a little complicated however when a love interest in the hottie daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) decides to drop in for the holidays as well. As is expected, we find out more about Drew and realize that he’s a likeable guy after all. There is still comedy in these scenes, but unfortunately there isn’t much heart.

Applegate and Affleck have some screen chemistry, but it could be seen more as a brother-sister type of connection. One could easily see that they are having fun in the scenes where they are together. The acting is satisfactory in the movie, especially from the supporting cast. I could easily say that the weakest actor in the bunch would have to be Ben Affleck himself. It somehow feels that he didn’t even prepare for or memorize his lines, he just improvises the whole way through. Which is fine… I couldn’t expect anything else from Affleck in a comedy!

As far as direction and screenwriting, I could say that this was the weakest link in the movie. I can’t really praise director Mike Mitchell, especially for the many minor gags he put in the movie which only serve to spoil any key moments. Also, while the writers did come up with a concept that could’ve made for a great Christmas movie, it seems that this movie is bereft of any heart whatsoever.

But then again, the key to enjoying this movie is all in the expectations. This movie really isn’t all that bad. The snowball and toboggan scenes are pretty funny, as are a few other scenes. The concept is good, Christina Applegate is in it, and most importantly, Affleck is in it too. So, while this movie doesn’t exactly rise to the standards of “Chasing Amy”, it’s still worth it to see Affleck flex his comedic muscles. Affleck’s back alright, provided he survives this movie’s early critics.

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