Office Christmas Party is the kind of empty-minded entertainment that numbs the brain and eases any stresses that may be weighing on your shoulders. I would compare watching the holiday-themed film to drinking a tall glass of lukewarm water served with a side of dance montages by a slew of B and C-list talent largely pulled from late night television. It is a harmless, completely forgettable, and entirely watchable film that just might be what you need to momentarily forget the woes of reality.
The film stars T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone, a manager for the Chicago branch of a tech company called Zenotek. Clay believes in giving his employees whatever they need in order to be happy because he sees happiness as key to running a successful business. His sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), the interim CEO for the company, disagrees and cites the company’s stagnant growth as proof for her belief. She even goes as far as to cancel the branch holiday party, which infuriates Clay. She also threatens to close the office unless they can double their quarterly growth before the holidays, leaving just two days for Clay and his staff to save their jobs.
The livelihood of Zenotek’s employees rides entirely on whether or not Clay can convince a financial giant (Courtney B. Vance) to sign with the company, but making that deal is not as easy as it appears. Desperate, Clay decides to pay for the company party out of pocket in order to show the potential client the night of his life and convince him Zenotek is where his business belongs.
While this is the main plot of Office Christmas Party it’s hardly the only story waiting to be told. There are almost as many subplots in this movie as their are actors you recognize from your premium cable. In addition to the power struggle between the Vanstone siblings and the fight to keep Zenotek Chicago open there are also threads related to a recently divorced man (Jason Bateman) seeking the affection of a woman he previous turned down (Olivia Munn), a nerdy tech guy (Karan Soni) trying to convince his coworkers his girlfriend is indeed real by hiring a prostitute with a female pimp (Jillian Bell), an uptight HR manager (Kate McKinnon) seeking a safe and friendly work environment for all, and more.
There are almost too many threads to count and not a one of them has an original idea to present. Two people who like each other, but never found the right time to see what might happen between them? Check. Someone mistakingly using cocaine instead of another powdered substance and inadvertently dosing people? Check. Unlikely workplace romance? Check. Dudes with weird fetishes? Check. Dance montages? Quadruple check.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in Office Christmas Party is that, despite its many stories and endless profanity, the film always feels a bit too safe. The hallmarks of a naughty good time are here, but they have been presented in such a way that everything feels more than a little sanitized. There are no surprising moments that elicit a gasp, guffaw, or burst of laughter even though the film is humorous throughout its runtime. It promises hedonism and delivers a by-the-numbers take on bad behavior that feels as though it were born in a meeting with studio executives rather than from the mind of someone who truly knows how to have a good time.
I’ve heard it said that what makes the holidays so great is the familiarity that comes from being around people and places you’ve known your whole life. If that is true then Office Christmas Party just might be the perfect raunchy holiday romp because every plot point and crude remark will be as familiar to viewers as their own home town. You have no doubt met these characters and encountered their situations before in other, perhaps more original, films. The only new idea, aside from a few lines of dialogue shouted through clear moments of improvisation, is the decision to tie them all together with an office Christmas party that looks nothing like any party you or I have ever attended.