Four Christmases (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.
Length: 88 minutes
Grade: A-C-AA=A-
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $164 million (120 U.S., 44 Intl.)

Written by: Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson (First script for both) and Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (co-writers of The Hangover and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past)
Directed by: Seth Gordon (Some comedy TV and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters)
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Kristin Chenowith, and Tim McGraw. (Perhaps that absurdly high 80 million went to some of these folks?)

Planning to lie to their families and visit Fiji for the holidays, the poster-couple for modernity (no marriage, no children) must confront their own relational stupidities when they are forced to spend Christmas with their four divorce-created families.

Entertainment Value: A-
I had medium expectations for this movie because both of the stars have been unreliable in recent years. But this was funny. Really funny. Even the parts that were included an homage to the Meet The Parents style of stress comedy which I can’t stand were fairly funny. I wish they could have toned down the language, but I’m not sure this film should or could be PG anyhow. Far more entertaining than I expected, despite the plot and the message being obvious from the beginning (perhaps because I knew the end message was going to be so good).

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language C
This movie opens in a bar with a man insulting a woman and then having sex with her in a bathroom stall. If you can stomach that, you can probably handle this movie. Drinking is common. Sexual comments and comedic situations based on sex are common. Slapstick violence is common. And language is at the very upper end of PG-13. I might go R-15 for this one. Absolutely not a kids movie. You should also know that church and religious people are essentially portrayed as idiotic.

Significant Content: A
Families, no matter how dysfunctional, are still valuable to us, if for no other reason than that they reveal the real us. When selfish people get their desires, they are only cheating themselves of the greater growth opportunities they connive their way out of. People can deceive themselves into believing anything…for a while. The modern myths about relationships are ultimately empty and unfulfilling. Divorce poisons children against marriage. Even exotic things become boring eventually.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
This movie falls smack into my favorite genre of modern movie: morality plays which truly appeal to the people who most need to watch them. Whatever else you might want to say about Hollywood and film stars in general, they do seem to be grasping for traditional morality more frequently with films like this. Granted, they still make all the other stuff, but when I see something like this, it gives me a glimmer of hope for our country. This film takes the worst possible familial background (double-divorce) and plays that into the archetypal post-modern couple who seems to have it all: success, happiness, and love. And then it uses those horrible families and backgrounds to deconstruct the entire modern relationship edifice a la Sex and the City or Oprah. It’s brilliant, and you could literally preach a half dozen sermons off this movie. Nevertheless, this film does the single most important thing any morality play can do: it refuses to preach those sermons itself. Thus, they’re reached by the audience and easily discussed afterwards. Bravo to such an inexperienced team of creators. I eagerly await more like this.

Discussion Questions:
~Just before they start visiting the families, Kate asks Brad to promise her that no matter what happens, he’ll stay with her in the end. He says, “Of course.” Why does she ask for that promise? Why does he give it? How is that promise related to marriage vows?
~When they are planning their Fiji trip, Kate remarks to Brad that this trip seems like all of their other trips, and he tries to convince her that scuba in Fiji will be different from other scuba. What idea is she getting at? What is it about always getting the best of everything that makes you eventually not enjoy it so much? Why are movies that always turn out well so bland, and especially so if there’s no real conflict in them? How do vacations like they normally take compare with family interactions? In what ways would you say Brad and Kate’s relationship is just like these vacations? How is marriage more like the family holiday? Which one is more pleasurable? Which one is better for us?
~Discuss some of the ways in which being around their families actually benefitted both Brad and Kate? How useful were their families for revealing their true selves to the other person? Why is it important to meet and know people’s families early in a relationship?
~Dishonesty by omission (hiding uncomfortable or embarrassing truths about ourselves) is a big theme in this movie. How does that allow Brad and Kate to have the relationship they have at the beginning. How does it prevent real love from having a chance to develop between them? What is the relationship between such deception and performance anxiety in a relationship? How is honesty related to unconditional love?
~When the truth about each of them comes out, it seems likely to ruin the relationship, but it turns out that only Kate’s changing desire for permanence does so. How do you think the exposure of their flaws and the love which comes from this was related to Brad’s ultimate decision to accept Kate on her more permanent terms? If he had neither known and accepted her flaws nor had her do the same to him before that division occurred, would he have been more or less likely to have come back?
~What lessons does this movie have to teach us about divorce and its impact on people?
~Why would these two lie to their families? What do they want to keep by making the lie that they feel they would be risking if they told them the truth about their vacation plans? What does this reveal about them? Why are they willing to tell total strangers what’s going on?
~To what degree is Brad’s monologue about avoiding kids and avoiding marriage representative of this modern culture’s attitude toward families? Would you say he’s at least consistent that no kids means no marriage? Would you say he’s being wiser than the people who get married intending to not have kids or to delay them significantly?
~Even though this movie presents both their parents and religion as dysfunctional, would you say that it ultimately says they are good and useful nevertheless? How is the typical approach of trying to show that church and family have no flaws both less honest and less effective?
~Families are involuntary relationships, and the holidays are often times when we’re required to be with them. How are both of these aspects of families beneficial to us?
Overall Grade: A-
As I said, this certainly entertained me, it has great lessons to teach, and it actually gives me hope that in and among the vulgarity of modern filmmaking, some people are really doing their part to make a difference in the right direction for our ailing society.

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