Heartland Hell

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13

      IF YOU ENJOYED Seth Gordon’s King of Kong:A Fistful of Quarters, an oddly gripping and very funny doc about the climactic battle for the highest recorded score in Donkey Kong, you owe it to yourself to actively avoid Four Christmases. Gordon’s follow-up, Four Christmases is the kind of film that you should only watch if you’re trapped on an airline and can’t fall asleep, the kind of holiday film that makes Jingle All the Way look like a cinematic tour de force. It’s painful to watch because it’s not about unity or holiday cheer; it’s about shaming single couples that don’t want to get married or have children into doing so—when they feel like it, that is. Hand puppet shows are less glaringly obvious in their agendas than Four Christmases.

    Brad and Kate (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) are a pair of childless, unmarried yuppies that selfishly want to have the holidays to themselves.When their connecting flight to Fiji is grounded and a group of TV reporters show their families that they’re within driving distance, the couple is obliged to visit all four households. In the process, the couple learns—or more accurately, Kate does and Brad follows suit— that they know nothing about each other and really should stop being so uptight and squirt out a couple of kids already.

    The film invites unhesitant cynicism of this kind because it clearly doesn’t want to do anything but reinforce the great American melting pot ideal of family above all else (curiously, all four families, from trailer trash to hippy-dippy freaks, apparently live in the San Francisco area). Its claim to an evenhanded argument is that it sends up red- and blue-state stereotypes evenhandedly and does so by making everyone equally loud and unfunny. Brad’s beer-swilling dad (Robert Duvall, who apparently accepts Budweiser in lieu of checks) is miles away from his zany, sexually liberated mom (Sissy Spacek, who looks like she needs a cold one).While Kate’s megachurch-attending mom (Mary Steenburgen, perfecting her “spacey older mom” look) is light-years apart from her affluent but surprisingly quirk-free dad (Jon Voight, in full Father Knows Best mode). Don’t worry: Both liberals and conservatives can appreciate the different families’ wackiness because they’re all inhuman, moronic clichés.

    Though her relatives are all equally unpleasant to be around, Kate somehow learns that the couple really should stop living in the moment and start seriously thinking about children and tying the knot.With a diverse extended family that’s uniformly irritating, it’s impossible to guess the cause for this miracle of moralizing, where a selfish urbanite decides to become one with the heartland and make friends with a breast pump (Apparently, she has no idea how one works! Kooky!). Needless to say, if you’re looking for mindless comfort and laughs, just turn on the TV and get them for free from the Parker clan in A Christmas Story or the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Neither film will make you lose respect for the people that made them, especially not their directors.

    > Four Christmases

    Directed by Seth Gordon Running Time: 82 min

    Reese and Vince decide to cash in with the putrid holiday flick, Four Christmases.