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Wayback Wednesday: Four Christmases (2008)

Chock-full of cringe-inducing chaos.

Four Christmases (2008) is not a holiday classic. Not by a long shot. It doesn’t have the legendary status as How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), the sentimentality of Love Actually (2003), or the childlike wonder of Home Alone (1990). That being said, it’s certainly entertaining, sidesplittingly funny, and I honestly get a kick out of my annual viewing. Seriously guys, we need to stop sleeping on Four Christmases. Why? Well, plenty of reasons but here’s the main one: Kristin Chenoweth. We’ll get there.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

Four Christmases follows Brad and Kate, played by Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, a commitment-phobic couple who after missing their flight to Fiji, are forced to spend Christmas day with each of their parents, all of whom are divorced. Over the next 24 hours they endure eccentric relatives, nightmarish children, physical challenges, and revisiting their traumatic childhoods. I’m making it sound like a horror movie, but stay with me. Okay, so I actually really like this movie and I think if people give it a real chance, they’ll find that there’s a lot to love. First of all, it’s a Christmas movie that doesn’t hit you over the head with a message of Christmas cheer, but rather subtlety reinforces the idea that for better or worse, the holiday is best spent with the family we love. Speaking of family, the cast that plays Brad and Kate’s in this movie is the definition of all-star: Mary Steenburgen, Kristin Chenoweth, Jon Favreau, Jon Voight, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Tim McGraw. That’s right, it took me until THIS viewing to realize that Brad’s brother Dallas is played by Tim McGraw! Completely unrecognizable. I never clued in before that it was Mr. Faith Hill underneath the camouflage and bandana.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

Already, just looking at Vaughn and Witherspoon make me laugh. Look, he’s 6′ 5” and she’s 5′ 1” so I can’t help but crack up whenever they appear side by side. Besides the height difference, their chemistry also has me cracking up. They play together so well. Taking equal turns to play the straight man and the comic, both of their characters get ample time to be cool and collected, and then zany and over the top. You know what’s really interesting about their characterization? The movie, at least in the beginning, doesn’t set out to make Brad and Kate likeable. Instead, the movie finds small ways to make them more realistic, flawed, and relatable characters: They’re prone to lying, selfish and anti-child, all little things that we’re guilty of being from time to time. Some of us feel the anti-child thing a little more frequently, just saying. I have to give the movie credit for making the inspired decision to dress Brad and Kate in head-to-toe black. It symbolizes not only their aversion to the holiday, but how they carry themselves in a more serious and professional manner than their raucous and colourful families.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

The families! God, I could talk about them forever. Brad’s father and brothers, played by Duvall, McGraw, and Favreau respectively, are the perfect white-trash family, with Favreau’s wife played by Katy Mixon stealing every scene the McVie family is in. I could have spent the entire runtime listening to her mispronounce “hor d’oeuvres” and watching her make a Doritio casserole. Kate’s house is, as she puts it, “a cougar den.” It’s hilarious that all of Kate’s relatives (hello cameo from Carol Kane) are super attracted to Brad. Yes, Katy Mixon is a scene-stealer, but Kristin freaking Chenoweth sure gives her a run for her money as Kate’s sister Courtney. I love Kristin Chenoweth. She’s always delightful to watch, charismatic as fuck, and has the flawless comedic timing that only years of theatre experience can provide. Hey Hollywood, here’s a question for you: why hasn’t living angel Kristin Chenoweth been given the lead role in a big-budget comedy? Yes, she’s perfect as the sister, neighbour, and best friend, but the woman is more than capable of carrying an entire movie on her back. As an early Christmas gift to me, please make it happen! Also, in this dream movie of mine, Mary Steenburgen plays her mom because I want Mary Steenburgen to be everyone’s mom in everything all the time always.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

This movie is so much fun because it’s able to shoe-horn in a lot of thought-provoking ideas about family and childhood, while still managing to leave plenty of room for crazy holiday antics. For example, the movie touches on how Brad and Kate were each physically and emotionally tormented by their families, then to cut the tension, shows Reese Witherspoon going apeshit and throwing kids out of her way in a jump-jump. I know I’m being greedy but tech-savvy people of the world, as a Christmas gift to me, please make a GIF of Reese Witherspoon brawling with children in a jump-jump. Thank you, God bless. Speaking of God, everything about Brad and Kate’s impromptu Nativity performance is spectacular. From Brad  totally hamming it up as Joseph to Kate’s stage-fright overcoming her, the scene is one of the movie’s most memorable.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

I”ve said before that I always admire when movies are able to drop subtle nuggets of wisdom and boy, does Four Christmases drop an unexpected one. After reprimanding Courtney for dishing about Kate’s past to Brad, she then says to Kate, “how can you really appreciate someone for who they are, until you really know them?” I love that. I love that the movie mines relationships and asks in a non-terrifying way, “how much do you know about your partner? Date nights and trips are all well and good, but you can’t love someone fully until you let them know every aspect of who you are, walls down. Ugh, when Brad tells Kate that she’s the woman he wants to have “the serious conversations with?” So charming. This movie nails romance in a realistic way. I mean, don’t we all want to find someone to have “the serious conversations” with? Four Christmases: Changing lives.

Although the story definitely wouldn’t work and would feel incredibly forced, Witherspoon and Vaughn are such a winning pair that I wouldn’t be mad if they reunited for a sequel. Maybe Nicole Kidman plays Kate’s estranged and glamorous sister and Kathy Bates is Brad’s crazy aunt who lives in the woods? Yeah, that’s it, let’s make it happen. Four Christmases is an enjoyable and heartwarming story that manages to provide plenty of laughs as well as an interesting commentary on families and relationships. This year, maybe skip It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and put on Four Christmases instead. It’s worth it for Kristin Chenoweth alone.

Do you like Four Christmases? Who would you want to see in a potential sequel?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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