Ben Affleck plays the lonely but wealthy media marketing executive Drew Latham. He prefers to ditch his family this holiday and take his materialistic girlfriend Missy (Jennifer Morrison) on a first-class trip to Fiji. Missy emphatically rejects his offer and dumps him for wanting to take her away from her family at Christmas. At the advice of Missy's quack psychologist, Drew's therapy is to write down all of his grievances with his family and burn them in front of his childhood home. While this ridiculously manufactured scenario presents a good treatment option for Drew, to the rest of us, it reeks of rotten eggnog.
Drew doesn't just burn his grievances on the doorstep - he blazes his own trail inside the house for the holiday. Drew offers residents Tom and Christine Valco (James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara) a preposterous $250,000 to allow him to re-enact his childhood memories with Tom and Christine serving as his parents. Once the Valcos sign the contract, a smug Drew is permitted to make wholesale changes for this family's holiday: The Valcos' son Brian (Josh Zuckerman) is evicted from his room so Drew can sleep in his old bed; Drew hires a local actor to portray his grandpa and move in with the Valcos; and Drew relegates their daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) to maid status because he didn't have a sister growing up. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
In Surviving, traditional happy family events like picking out a Christmas tree, or singing Christmas carols are drastically degraded into sardonic squabbles. At his lowest point, Drew draws up scripts for each family member to re-enact so that they do not deviate from the Leave It To Beaver-style Christmas Drew has fantasized about. Unfortunately for Drew, this holiday is closer to a run-in with the Sopranos than the Cleavers.
Even though all holiday cheer is bagged for crass jokes, nasty pranks, and indecent actions, Surviving works on a small level as a precursor to the entire pre-holiday hullabaloo. Director Mike Mitchell's (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo) film is not meant to evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling. It's a satirical look at the ludicrous lengths many Americans will go to ensure (or buy, in Drew's case) a perfect holiday. Christmas is months away, but now is the time for frantic shoppers to be pushing through crowds at the mall with frustration levels on high. Surviving would fail to hit its mark the closer we get to the holidays, and that is why we're getting it now. It shouldn't be around come Christmas to spoil our eventual good cheer.
The film is certainly not without its problems - the plot meanders nowhere and it's dominated by obnoxious, over-the-top performances. But the writing is crisp, and the insults are fun. It's certainly not the best way to spend the holiday - good thing it's only October.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd October 2004
Box Office USA: $11.2M
Distributed by: Dreamworks
Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 7%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 104
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Mike Mitchell
Starring: Ben Affleck as Drew Latham, James Gandolfini as Tom Valco, Christina Applegate as Alicia Valco, Catherine O'Hara as Christine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman as Brian Valco, Bill Macy as Doo-Dah, Jennifer Morrison as Missy Vanglider, Udo Kier as Heinrich, David Selby as Horace Vanglider, Stephanie Faracy as Letitia Vanglider, Stephen Root as Dr. Freeman, Sy Richardson as Doo-Dah Understudy, Tangie Ambrose as Kathryn, John 'B.J.' Bryant as Cabbie, Peter Jason as Suit