The worst Christmas memories we have tend to become the funniest and most memorable moments of our lives, and I went into A Merry Friggin’ Christmas expecting that it would reflect that. With a cast that includes such tremendously talented actors like Joel McHale, Lauren Graham, Candice Bergen, Clark Duke and Robin Williams, in what sadly turned out to be one of his last roles before his tragic death, this seemed to be a surefire winner and quite possibly one of the most subversive Christmas comedies ever, right?
Nope, no such luck. A Merry Friggin’ Christmas turns out to be a tremendous disappointment as it strands its wonderful cast in a far too typical Christmas movie with very little in the way of laughs. In fact, I never got much in the way of gut busting laughs like I hoped I would. When actors like these can’t make this holiday comedy rise above its formulaic conventions, you know that something is seriously wrong in the state of Denmark.
McHale stars as Boyd Mitchler, and the movie starts with him as a boy hiding under the Christmas tree waiting for Santa Claus to appear. But instead of Santa Claus, Boyd is instead greeted by his drunken father Mitch (Robin Williams) who quickly tells him that, like the Easter Bunny, Santa doesn’t exist. Move to a number of years later and Boyd is now happily married to Luann (Lauren Graham) and a father to two adorable children. Unlike his father, Boyd is determined to keep the magic of Christmas going for his kids as long as he can before the reality of the cruel real world they live in forever robs them of that.
It’s interesting how Boyd’s daughter already knows that Santa doesn’t exist as kids these days are getting increasingly harder to trick or fool. Still, Boyd is determined to keep his son Douglas (Pierce Gagnon from Looper) believing that the jolly fat man from the North Pole is real even if he has to fly at 20,000 mph in order to deliver all those presents. Of course, with climate change melting away much of the ice on this planet, Santa would most likely be living in a submarine at this point.
But then Boyd gets word from his brother Nelson (Clark Duke) that his baby is going to be baptized on Christmas Eve, and this means that the whole Mitchler family is going to be reunited under one roof for the first time in years. We all know what happens when such a dysfunctional family gets together; tempers flare and old resentments quickly rise to the surface. Clearly things are going to get worse before they can finally get better, and it doesn’t take a genius to see how predictable this “comedy” is going to end up being.
What’s even more unsurprising is that we see early on that Boyd is going to completely forget to bring Douglas’ presents along with him, and this results in him going on an 8-hour roundtrip to get them and preserve his son’s belief in Christmas. Coming along with Boyd on this ride is father who uses his truck which has a couple of portable toilets stowed in the back. Will one of them fall off and create a disgusting mess? Does a bear shit in the woods?
Holiday movies are a dime a dozen, and I’m always waiting for one which messes around with the formula to give us something different. A Merry Friggin’ Christmas had the potential to be such a movie, but it ends up falling apart as soon as it starts. The performances and the comedy are played much too broadly, and everything quickly comes off as very uninspired. It’s such a shame because you have an actor like Graham who starred in one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, Bad Santa, and even she can’t save this movie with her priceless expressions (and they really are priceless).
A Merry Friggin’ Christmas has taken on a special meaning in light of Williams’ tragic death, and it’s sad that his career had to end with a movie like this one. Having said that, he does have some moments where he doesn’t say a word but his face speaks volumes about what Mitch is feeling and going through his head. He makes you feel Mitch’s pain when he discovers that he has been photo-shopped out of a family photo, and while his character is mostly a one-dimensional jerk, Williams gives him a depth many other actors would not have been able to have achieved. It’s a shame that his talents ended up being wasted on such a half-baked screenplay.
For me, there are few things worse than a comedy that doesn’t make you laugh, and A Merry Friggin’ Christmas sadly turns out to be one of those comedies. Those looking for the perfect Christmas movie for the whole family will be better off renting National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Love Actually or Bad Santa. This one is not going to keep you entertained.