Christmas movie review: Four Holidays

23 December 2011

Written by: Mary-Lou Ciampa

The meaning of Christmas has a multitude of variations. For some, it revolves around giving and receiving an enormous amount of presents. Others are attracted by the allure of a mammoth ham with all the trimmings. Most subscribe to the popular notion of Christmas as a day devoted to the cherishing of loved ones.

Although I will rarely decline a gift, relish the freedom of eating my weight in pudding, and enjoy initiating war over Christmas cracker novelties with my cousins, I personally regard the holiday quite differently. As purported in a festive favourite of mine, Four Holidays, Christmas equals obligations.

Far from a classic we religiously watched as children, Four Holidays is a contemporary Christmas flick which appeals to the budding holiday cynics. Or rather the individuals who long to avoid the Christmas package, that is the compulsory, and occasionally painful, annual visit with the relatives.

Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) are a wealthy, urban, unattached couple from San Francisco. Brad and Kate are content with their responsibility-free relationship, preferring to spend Christmas Day soaking the rays on an island than enduring the prolific dysfunction of their respective families.

For three years they have claimed to engage in charitable volunteer work overseas whilst in fact retreating to exotic destinations. This routine excuse seems infallible until a bank of fog results in the cancellation of their flight to Fiji. Inconveniently, but certainly predictably, television coverage of the incident reveals to their kin that they are now indeed available for Christmas.

With both sets of parents divorced, the couple have four uniquely chaotic Christmases to attend, each of which will raise insecurities in their relationship.

Throughout the visit, skeletons from their closets that they endeavoured to conceal are exposed. Kate’s prolonged fear of jumping castles, and the intimate relationship between Brad’s former best friend and mother, are only the tip of the sinking iceberg which is their connection as a couple.

True to the formulaic plot, the concrete ideas they both maintained concerning marriage and children suddenly dissipate. Especially for Kate who begins to hear the tick of her perceived-to-be non-existent, maternal clock. Spending time with family she attempted to avoid led to the desire to cultivate her own brood of craziness. Brad is frightened by the prospect of building the madness which he aims to circumvent every Christmas.

Despite not falling into the category of the traditional Christmas film alive with festive spirit, Four Holidays represents a significant reminder. By portraying such bizarre and eccentric families, inevitably we feel better about our own. Or contrarily, we learn to be happy with the ones who sometimes make us unhappy.

Four Holidays communicates through humour, slapstick comedy, and a celebrated cast, that Christmas involves obligations, yet there is no reason upholding such duties should be a negative process. The moral regarding the importance of family may be trite, but ultimately it never hurts to remember that loved ones will always irritate, infuriate, and exasperate us. The difficulty is realising that those traits are exactly why we love them.

Melissa Koutoukidis is an aspiring journalist and a Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Melbourne. You can follow her on Twitter: @_Youve_Got_Mel. This is her first piece for upstart.