4 out of 10
Scrooge in Reverse
After his airhead girlfriend walks out on him, Drew Latham, a wealthy but intensely lonely man, decides to hire a lower middle class family to he finds living in his childhood home, to be his pretend relatives and give him the Christmas he's never known, in exchange for $250,000. Once under a contract drawn up by Latham's lawyer, the Valco household with the mother gloriously played by Catherine O'Hara on the brink of a nervous breakdown, not only have the stress of the endless false bonhomme, but have to deal with a cynical daughter in her twenties, arriving home unexpectedlly, unwilling to cooperate and threatening to ruin their chance of a lifetime.
Right from the get-go, the picture floods with stereotyping. It's a feel good movie set in an America, so it must be in Chicago and Latham is shallow and lacks empathy towards his fellow man, so he must be an advertising executive. Sound familiar? Well yes, it bears many remarkable similarities (with quality of screenplay excluded) to "What Women Want" where Mel Gibson was a shallow advertising executive in Chicago who had to learn about empathy to those around him.
Whilst the script has the sort of laughably predictable plot that would have been used 50 years ago as the basis for a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance flick, it cannot be denied that the film has at least some charm for the pairing of the eternally affable Ben Afflick as Latham and the bad tempered James Gandolfini who more usually is playing mafia types, producing a superb comedy team, not seen since the "Odd Couple".
With nothing bad and events that all ages can understand, it is a harmless film that one can take the entire family to see, mother-in-law included, and expect everyone to be a least somewhat entertained unlike most children's movies. Even so, there is no getting around the fact that this is essentially a one-joke movie and a story that makes no logical sense: for instance, at the end, Latham claims his mother was so poor she had to work every Christmas Day as a waitress, yet his childhood home is a very comfortable suburban house with several bedrooms...err, mismatch alert, mismatch alert... Likewise in any such Christmas film centred on self-discovery, their has to be a moral in it, yet when it is observed in the cold light of day, the Valco's son has lost in everyway and would in real life have been left with a very warped and corrupted view of Christmas and family.
Standard issue Christmas "Feel-good" Movie
Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett