“Surviving Christmas”… just barely

Oh, Ben Affleck. My undying allegiance to you and your body of work has been made known far and wide. I’ve proclaimed “Jersey Girl” to be the masterpiece it truly was, even in the face of certain ostracism. I’ve explained to as many people as possible the media conspiracy that exists against you. And I do it because that’s what people from Boston do for each other. We stick together; we look out for each other. That’s why writing this review is going to hurt so badly.

“Surviving Christmas” tells the story of Drew Latham (Affleck), a wealthy ad executive who is alone for the holidays. Seeking a cure for the holiday depression, he returns to his childhood home, which is now owned by the bearded and ornery Tom Valco (James Gandolfini, “The Sopranos”) and his family. Desperate and lonely, Drew offers the Valco family $250,000 to act as though they are his own for the holidays. Tom, his wife Christine (Catherine O’Hara, “Best in Show”) and their son Brian all feign holiday cheer to satisfy the overly enthusiastic Drew. But when daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate, “Married…With Children”) arrives and proclaims the whole plan to be insane, she clashes with Drew as though she was the biological sister he never had. And then they fall in love.

Now let’s get something straight. “Surviving Christmas” has legitimately funny, laugh-out-loud portions. But the biggest problem is that the funny ideas within the script sink under the weight of a story so unfocused that it borders incoherence. The tale bounces from subplot to subplot, barely tying them together at all. Characters hate each other in one scene, and then are smitten with each other in the next with hardly any explanation.

The actors do the best they can with the script. It’s a draw between Gandolfini and O’Hara as to who steals the show more often. Applegate and Affleck are both above the material, although even Ben’s hardcore fans will have trouble getting past the fact that he does little more than wear a toothy, freshly bleached, ear to ear smile for the entire film. In the end, it’s a shame that “Surviving Christmas” turned out this way. In there somewhere is a funny holiday flick with heart to spare. But even the talent involved isn’t able to salvage it.

“Surviving Christmas” opens in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 22.

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