Funny ‘Christmas With the Campbells’ brings all the holiday warmth — and some weirdness too
Brittany Snow and Justin Long jingle their way through an off-kilter spoof of wintry love stories.
The affectionately satirical “Christmas With the Campbells” has all the ingredients of the standard holiday movie, from the idyllic country setting to the busy town square to the meet-cute romance to the likable and colorful characters — but time and again, there’s something a little raunchy, a little subversive and weird about the dialogue.
To wit. Justin Long’s David is strolling with Brittany Snow’s Jesse on a sun-dappled winter’s day when he explains why he never gets to see his mother around Christmastime. “When I was 9, [my stepfather] sat me down, he said, ‘I’m never gonna try to be your father, but I sure do love being romantic with your mother, so I’m going to take her on a trip every holiday so I can get her alone and do stuff to her without any interruptions. … Rub on her, have her tug on me, incorporate children’s costumes but in a more adult way ...”
Brittany Snow’s reaction as Jesse is priceless. She’s sympathetic, but also, Wait, WHAT? A good measure of Snow’s endearing performance involves her reacting with deadpan timing to people sharing TMI, e.g., when Jesse’s ex-boyfriend’s mother tells Jesse about her overactive libido and explains that’s why her son is such a horndog.
RLJE Films presents a film directed by Clare Niederpruem and written by Barbara Kymlicka, Vince Vaughn and Dan Lagana. No MPAA rating. Running time: 88 minutes. Opens at Emagine in Frankfort and streams on AMC+ starting Friday.
Directed by Clare Niederpruem and based on an original idea by Vince Vaughn (who co-wrote the script with Dan Lagana and Barbara Kymlicka and is one of the film’s producers), “Christmas With the Campbells” bears the mark of Vaughn’s signature humor. Like the Scroogey musical “Spirited” on Apple TV+, “Campbells” has its gingerbread man cookies and eats them too, as it manages to poke fun at holiday movie tropes while cozying up to the genre. For every scene in which the local town gossip refers to Jesse as a “whore,” or an older couple indulges in a concoction made of grape soda, cough syrup and hard candy, we get the obligatory sequences of ice-skating on the pond, the annual holiday dance and talk of a magical “Wishing Tree” in the valley.
“Christmas With the Campbells” kicks off with Jesse and her longtime boyfriend Shawn (“SNL” alum Alex Moffat) in the big city, with Jesse talking about how photography is her passion and Shawn retorting, “Passion? It’s really more of a hobby, isn’t it?” (WARNING: When your smarmy boyfriend dismisses your passion as a hobby, he’s not the one for you.) Jesse is excited about their upcoming trip to Ketchum, Idaho, to spend the holidays with Shawn’s family, but Shawn destroys Jesse’s world when he explains he’s got an interview in New York City with a large accounting firm, so they won’t be going to Ketchum — and in fact, it’s time for them to go their separate ways.
“I think I’m holding you back,” says Shawn. “We had a really great run. … You’re down to clown and sexy as f---. You keep that ----- so fresh. … We kept the fights clean and the sex dirty [and] neither of us was unfaithful as far as you know.”
What a guy.
While Jesse is crying and decorating her tree to the sound of “Silver Bells,” she gets a call from Shawn’s parents saying she should come spend the holidays with them anyway. After all, she bought a non-refundable ticket and she has nowhere else to go, and they love her like family. What could possibly go movie-like?
Next thing you know, Jesse is staying with Shawn’s parents, Liz and Robert (played by 1980s sitcom greats Julia Duffy and George Wendt) — and meeting Shawn’s cousin, David (Justin Long), an outdoorsman who operates a small travel agency in Colorado, has a lovable dog named Polo (“named after my second favorite explorer”) and for some inexplicable reason, talks like a character from a Western, e.g., when he introduces himself to Jesse, he says, “Name’s David, I’m kin to the Campbells. Fall under the title of ‘nephew.’ ”
David and Jesse begin to spend a lot of time together. Shawn shows up unexpectedly and starts reconsidering his decision to dump Jesse. Jesse dons a sparkling outfit for the annual dance, and David exclaims, “You look like a disco ball made sweet love to a shooting star.” Shawn’s mom Liz adds a little nip to her morning coffee and tells Jesse, “I’m just having fun, it’s the holidays. Maybe I’ll have a tall boy with lunch.” And oh that lovable pooch Polo, why, he’s just got a way of getting into things.
Brittany Snow is wonderful as she plays it straight throughout, in a generous performance that allows Moffat to portray the obligatory jerky boyfriend and Long to go off the rails with the cornpone cowboy routine. Wendt and Duffy are a hoot together. “Christmas With the Campbells” is like a weirdly creative holiday drink; you wouldn’t expect those ingredients to work together, but somehow, they do.