Saturday, November 29, 2008

Taking The Mom And Dad Out Of Christmas

"Four Christmases," starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, is about how maintaining healthy boundaries can be bad. They play Brad and Kate, who have sealed themselves off from the toxicity of their serially-divorced parents and oddball siblings, just as their therapists have no doubt advised them. They've also been too selective about what they've revealed to one another about their own backgrounds (Brad's real name, abandoned during childhood; Kate's extra weight, ditto).

The perfect couple live blissfully self-indulgent lives until circumstances find them spending Christmas Day at separate festivities overseen by their parents, wonderfully rendered by Robert Duvall (who's flying a POW-MIA flag; you may thereby deduce how Hollywood portrays him and his relations), the cougarific Mary Steenburgen and Sissy Spacek, and real-life dad of the parental boundary-enforcing Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight.

In the cut-and-thrust of embarrassing revelations, relived childhood rituals, and after-dinner board games, Brad and Kate realize that they can't so easily discard their fated genes. Indeed, as the movie suggests, if we're lucky (or, rather, intentional), we'll fashion coherent or at least authentic lives by embracing our family settlements, iffy or not. The greatest disappointment of "Four Christmases" is that in the end Brad and Kate don't seem to have fully absorbed these incarnational realities. The best things, besides that great lineup of moms and dads, are Vaughn and Witherspoon's chemistry, wordplay, and hi jinks. Think "Wedding Crashers" with baby puke.

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