While I rarely issue parental warnings, there’s a scene in this PG-13 holiday-themed romantic comedy in which the verisimilitude of Santa Claus is not only questioned but denied. I’d hate to think parents would inadvertently bring youngsters, only to have them disillusioned in such a crass, tactless way.
Otherwise, it’s a harmless enough endeavor, chronicling the emotional maturation of a self-absorbed, happily unmarried, upscale San Francisco couple – Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspooon) – who have agreed to ditch their respective dysfunctional family gatherings on Dec. 25th, saying they’re doing humanitarian work abroad but, instead, indulging in sybaritic pleasures. But when they’re trapped at the airport by a fogbank and caught on camera by a local TV reporter, the jig’s up; their parents – who are all divorced – expect them to visit.
So for the first time in the three years they’ve dated, Kate meets Brad’s uncouth father (Robert Duvall) and brawling brothers (Jon Favreau, Tim McGraw) and Brad’s ‘cougar’ mother (Sissy Spacek) who’s serenely living with Brad’s high school buddy (Patrick Van Horn). Then Brad meets Kate’s mother (Mary Steenburgen), who’s smitten with Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakam), and sister (Kristin Chenoweth), who’s still grinding adolescent axes. The evening ends at the Lake Tahoe retreat of Kate’s compassionate father (Jon Voight) where some decisions have to be made.
While comedic virtuosos Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon skillfully underplay their amusing size difference and characters’ vulnerability, exaggeration is the name of director Seth Gordon’s game as – count ‘em – four screenwriters (Matt R. Allen & Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas & Scott Moore) toss around the anxiety/discomfort theme.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Four Christmases” gets a festive 5, but do use caution when opening this early holiday present.