I've now seen sixteen movies on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the worst films of the decade and they have ranged from inane (Corky Romano) to offensively bad (3 Strikes), but Surviving Christmas, #91, is the first film on the list that just missed actually being good. You'd think that would leave a film as merely mediocre, but the badness is in how good is barely missed. That "how" can be summed up in one word: Affleck.
Surviving Christmas is about a young millionaire (Affleck) who won't talk about his family and has no friends, except for his girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison). Complaining about not spending Christmas with her family, she leaves him and he tries to find a way to not be alone. He ends up at the house in which he was raised, but the family there (James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, and some kid) are not happy about him snooping around their house. Affleck decides to pay them $250,000 if they will pretend to be his family for the holiday. A contract is drawn up and hilarity is supposed to ensue. After some of those attempts at hilarity, the family's older daughter (Christina Applegate) arrives home and immediately hates the situation and wants Affleck gone. Things are confused even more when the girlfriend shows up and everyone has to pretend it's all a real family. I'll leave you to wonder about whether or not Affleck and Applegate end up falling in love and the whole family learns the real meaning of Christmas.
The real problem here is that Affleck just can't act, certainly not as the lead in a movie. He's fine throwing around Kevin Smith's dialogue as long as he has Matt Damon or Jason Lee to give it back. Affleck should never be the one going across the country to see about a girl. He should always be the one who trudges through life and is happy to find that his more talented counterpart has skipped town to chase Minnie Driver. In Surviving Christmas, Affleck takes the lead with a frenetic desperation that makes you want to look away. He's the focal point of the movie and that's what keeps any hilarity from ensuing. He's just not funny. He's not a good enough actor to pull off funny. It's shameful. Not that Gandolfini necessarily helps with his one-note Tony Soprano-esque performance, but the movie has a great comedic actress in O'Hara and a very good comedic actress in Applegate. Once Applegate comes in, the movie has a lot more soul. She just comes in too late to save it. If you just watched the last twenty minutes or so, you may actually not hate the movie. Unfortunately, it wouldn't make much sense without the first awful Affleck-laden hour.
There's a lot of schlock thrown around this time of year. More than half of the kids shows that the networks run are beyond garbage. Most of the music is crap compared to real music. People get sucked up in the season and are willing to put up with what seems like almost anything. You end up with these sentimental family movies. Christmas stuff can only be compared to Christmas stuff, because if you compare Christmas stuff to non-Christmas stuff on an even playing field, Christmas stuff gets its collective holly-decked ass kicked. For Christmas stuff, the heart of Surviving Christmas is not too bad. If only it had a better-acting angel at the top of the tree.