Comedy. Drama. Suspense. History. Politics. Lots to choose from at the box office this weekend. And it’s all pretty good, even awards-worthy. Except for Office Christmas Party. That one’s just for fun!
Office Christmas Party is not destined to become a holiday classic. But it’s still plenty of fun in the moment, thanks to a Santastic bundle of comedic talent. Too many sub-plots clutter up the nativity scene a bit, but here’s the gist: The uptight CEO (Jennifer Aniston) of a tech company cancels all holiday parties and threatens to close the Chicago branch run by her dufus brother Clay (T.J. Miller) unless he can seal a lucrative deal with a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) by year’s end. With the help of his Chief Technical Officer (Jason Bateman) and a talented techie (Olivia Munn), Clay throws caution (and his sister’s orders) to the wind and throws an epic office party designed to impress the client, boost morale, and save everyone’s jobs. Let’s just say the party – which the head of HR (Kate McKinnon) insists on calling a “non-denominational holiday mixer” — goes off the rails big-time, devolving into a drug and alcohol-fueled physical comedy extravaganza.
The movie is somewhat formulaic and predictable and has its share of fart jokes, nudity, prostitutes, bad romance, and misunderstandings — but overall, it’s surprisingly un-raunchy (downright tame compared to the food orgy finale in Sausage Party), and almost sweet. The ads will likely tout Office Christmas Party as the funniest movie of the holiday season. That’s probably true but, let’s face it, the bar is rather low. (Bad Santa 2? Almost Christmas?) So throw on an ugly sweater, grab a spiked eggnog, and enjoy the party for what it is – mindless adult entertainment.
Miss Sloane is a captivating political thriller that stars Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian, The Help) as Elizabeth Sloane, a high-powered lobbyist (in very high heels) who has a bout of conscience ala Jerry Maguire and decides to ‘weaponize’ herself in the battle to expose a corrupt system. She’s alternately sympathetic, scheming, and scary as she justifies using all means necessary to achieve victory in a campaign against the gun lobby. Her message is sincere, but her methods are suspect. Chastain’s riveting performance is supported by a stellar cast that includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion, Belle, Beyond the Lights) as a passionate and idealistic gun-control advocate, Mark Strong as the boss who struggles to keep Sloane’s methods in check, and John Lithgow as a holier-than-thou Senator who puts Sloane in the hot seat at a testy Congressional hearing. The movie takes lots of unexpected twists and turns and offers up a timely and compelling message about politics, lobbyists, gun control, and personal and professional sacrifice. Miss Sloane is rated R, but it’s a very soft R. Send in the teens, and the adults.
Jackie reminded me of 2011’s The Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep delivered an Oscar-winning performance as iconic British stateswoman Margaret Thatcher in a movie that was, overall, quite boring. With Jackie, I fully expect – and endorse – a nomination and likely win for Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Thor) for her convincing portrayal of America’s most iconic former first lady, Jackie Kennedy, even though the film itself failed to blow me away. The narrative is framed by interviews that Jackie gave for an exclusive article in Life Magazine in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. The film doesn’t seek to sensationalize the details of the well-documented tragedy that shook the nation. But rather, it focuses on Jackie’s meticulous and conscious efforts to maintain her composure and preserve her husband’s legacy. Who knew it was Jackie herself that crafted the reference to the Kennedy years as ‘Camelot’?! (I didn’t). Portman does an amazing job emoting the grief, strength, class, charm, fortitude and vulnerability that defined the former First Lady. So if you want your Oscar pool selections for Best Actress to be based on movies and characters you’ve actually seen, you’ll have to put Jackie on the list. (Note: and good luck getting the music of Camelot out of your head.)
Lion is a chick flick tour de force that starts rolling out in more theaters this week and next, and was one of my favorites at the Middleburg Film Festival in October. It’s based on the true story of a five-year-old boy named Saroo who gets lost after boarding a train that takes him thousands of miles away from his family in a poor village in India. He is forced to survive as a street kid in Calcutta but eventually ends up in an orphanage, is adopted by an Australian couple, and 25 years later, uses Google Earth to search for his birthplace, mother, and older brother. A child actor named Sunny Pawar plays the young Saroo and he is phenomenal. The first half of the film, based on the autobiographical book “The Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley, is by far the most gripping to watch as you can’t help but fear for this poor lost boy. Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Slumdog Millionaire) picks up the role of Saroo as a young adult. He is good too. And so is Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother and Priyanka Bose as his biological mother. But it’s Sunny’s heart-wrenching performance that truly drives the emotional train. Take Kleenex.
Miss Sloane trailer:
Office Christmas Party trailer: