Holiday spirit

Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn open the season with laughs, love

Four Christmases
Starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. Directed by Seth Gordon. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Holiday movies are a dime a dozen, and the few that do stand out—Christmas Vacation, Bad Santa—bring that little extra to the dinner table. Four Christmases, with the wonderfully cast Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn as the leads, almost does it, but the little extra is covered in Cheese Whiz rather than pâté.

Brad and Kate appear to be the perfect couple, completely in sync with each other’s wants and desires. For instance, neither wants to get married, have kids or—most important—see their families for Christmas. Instead, each year they head off on a tropical vacation, telling their parents they’re doing charity work ("You can’t spell ‘families’ without ‘lies'").

But this year, bad weather keeps them from Fiji and, thanks to the local TV news, they end up with four separate visits (their parents are all divorced) planned for Christmas day, starting with his dad and ending with hers.

Witherspoon is charming as ever, and Vaughn is his same old talkative self, which usually serves him well comically but by the end of the film becomes a bit annoying. Others pop in, though, to spice up the family drama—namely Robert Duvall as Brad’s dad and Sissy Spacek as his mom. Jon Favreau also stands out as Brad’s “ultimate fighter” brother.

On the less-white-trash, more high-class side, Mary Steenburgen plays Kate’s perky born-again mother, who’s been dating the local pastor (Dwight Yoakum). A scene at her house in which Brad is fawned over while Kate cleans up vomit and gets stuck in a bounce house is one of the funniest in the film.

But when the family get-togethers begin, the happy couple start to fall apart—as does the sensibility of the script. For one, although Brad and Kate have been together three years, and their parents all live within driving distance, they apparently have never met each other’s families.

They apparently also don’t know everything there is to know about one another, which becomes painfully obvious during a board game at Brad’s mom’s house. The cliché moment isn’t the only one in the film, but it does give way to a certain sweetness.

Four Christmases doesn’t break any ground on the holiday-film front, but Witherspoon and Vaughn are a loveable, funny pair who add a little bit of comedy and tenderness to the Christmas spirit.