Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Four Christmases

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.
Profanity:Some strong and crude language
Nudity/Sex:Some very crude sexual references and descriptions of various bodily functions
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, mild drug reference
Violence/Scariness:Comic violence
Diversity Issues:None
Movie Release Date:November 26, 2008
DVD Release Date:November 24, 2009
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Nudity/Sex: Some very crude sexual references and descriptions of various bodily functions
Alcohol/Drugs: Drinking, mild drug reference
Violence/Scariness: Comic violence
Diversity Issues: None
Movie Release Date: November 26, 2008
DVD Release Date: November 24, 2009

The biggest acting achievement in this film is four Oscar winners valiantly managing to hide their embarrassment in appearing in sheer holiday dreck. Its leads are not as successful. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn cannot manage to disguise their shame and all but skulk through this latest lump of coal in the cinematic stocking.

We get a couple of “Christmas Craziness” movies every year, shrill, over-the-top extravaganzas about dysfunctional families and holiday pressure, ending with some realization of a highly secularized discovery of the true meaning of Christmas. Following in the miserable tradition of Surviving Christmas, Christmas with the Kranks, Deck the Halls, this is one more overstuffed turkey of a movie trying to draw laughs with barfing babies, bratty children, embarrassing revelations, and old people talking about sex.


Funny, huh?

Not only that, it begins with our heroes, Kate (Witherspoon) and Brad (Vaughn) in the midst of a sex game in which they pretend to meet for the first time, taunt each other with crude insults, and then have a quickie in the bathroom. Yes, these are the lovebirds with whom we’ll be racing to four different homes, each designed to illustrate Tolstoy’s view that every family is unhappy in its own way.

Kate and Brad plan to avoid Christmas entirely by telling their families they are on a humanitarian mission but going to Fiji for a fabulous sun ‘n’ fun vacation. But they are busted when the airport is fogged in and they appear on the news, so they are stuck visiting their parents on Christmas. Since both parents are divorced, that means four houses. Robert Dvuall is Brad’s father, who hosts them with Brad’s cage-fighting brothers (“Iron Man” director Jon Favreau and country star Tim McGraw) and their children. After a few rounds of insults and smackdowns, it’s off to cougar-ville with Kate’s mother, Mary Steenburgen and her female relatives, who enjoy hugging Brad so much he wishes he was back in the hammerlock. Brad and Kate get dragged into playing Joseph and Mary in the mega-church nativity with preacher Dwight Yoakam. Brad’s mom Sissy Spacek and her boy toy host them for a game of “Taboo” that reminds Brad and Kate how little they know each other and then Kate’s dad John Voight goes all Bruce-Demi-Ashton with the whole family at his house.


Director Seth Gordon is an able cinematographer and documentary-maker (“Shut Up and Sing,” “The King of Kong”) but he shows no feel whatsoever for comedy pacing or romantic banter. A battalion of writers apparently each worked on different pieces which were thrown together without any effort at consistency. Kate has a completely different relationship with her sister in one house than she did in the other and the evolving interest in building a family is forced and flimsy. All four visits and the interactions between Kate and Brad feel slack and saggy and after sitting through it, so do we.

  • jestrfyl

    OK, you deserve some sort of award for bringing Tolstoy into a discussion of this movie.
    I really like Vince Vaughn, the most loveable cad, and I enjoy and admire many of the stars in supporting roles in this film (Ms Witherspoon seems seems rather feather weight for me), and even I wince when I watch the ads for this thing. It is a good idea gone astray. As a scoutmaster – long ago and far away – I once had to wait with a kid whose four parental households all forgot to pick him up after a campout. I understand the anguish of dealing with four styles and complections of unhappiness. The potenial for comedy lurks nearby every tragedy. But I guess this is but one more star-burdened film that sinks under its own weight (See The Women remake for an example).

  • Angie

    Sorry, but barfing babies happens everyday, and if you can’t find humor in everyday events, then maybe you need to learn how to live life. This movie looks hilarious and I can’t wait to watch it!

  • Nell Minow

    I’m always glad to hear from someone who sees more in a movie than I do, Angie, but usually they wait until they’ve actually seen it before coming to its defense. I find a lot of humor in everyday events. But I didn’t find much in this movie.

  • Your Name

    Actually,I loved this film;I don’t see the comparison with Christmas with the Cranks,to be honest-i saw that on video recently and it was painful; I mean painful!!! Deck the halls was cute-ish,again on video and with my 8 yr old.
    4 Christmases I saw purely for Vaughn,who is always hilarious to watch. OK,so I paid 5 bucks for a matinee,but most of the audience laughed audibly during several scenes,myself included.
    It’s funny you thought that Kate had a different relationship with her sister in each house; I didn’t see that. She was warm towards Kate in the first house,as well,all the while tending to a drastically different dynamic than in her father’s.
    Not to over-think this movie. The point of it is not deep thinking. It’s not meant to be much,but to be slightly manipulative emotionally during a sentimental/nostalgic time of year.
    Some folks like the ‘Elf’ types of humor [grown adult who’s a kid;I personally dislike that genre of film,if it can be called a genre],others like the romantic comedy type.
    Truthfully,I’m more of a Wes Anderson fan,and foreign films,than anything….but I love me a hollywood romantic comedy now and then,and this was the best one I’ve seen in years. [Not that that is saying much-what was that awful title with Jude Law,Cameron Diaz,Kate Winslett,Jack Black a few years ago? Now,THAT was awful.] I’d give Four Christmases a solid B. If you love Vaughn,I think you’d be entertained,especially for the price of a matinee.

  • Debbie

    My Husband and I took my 12 and 13 year old thinking this would be a funny movie and AGE APPROPRIATE AS it’s rated PG13. The extreme mature nature of the film shocked me so much. This movie should have been rated R. The opening scene is a pretty graphic sex encounter with a stranger in a public bathroom. Even if it ends up being her husband and this was sex play, that didn’t make it all better. The movie moves on to a serious Santa spoiler, discussion of what nipples are like after breastfeeding, men humping each other while wrestling, vulgar language and an elderly lady talking about how she was going to pleasure her husband more with her hand and mouth. We got up and left the theater. At that point, we had had enough. As an adult, I could see the humor in the movie. But, I was VERY uncomfortable and upset that my children where being exposed to this. In summary, I feel duped by the rating. It was not rated properly and definately should have been rated R. If this is what the movie industry feels is appropriate for a 13 year old, no wonder our world is such a mess.

  • Nell Minow

    Debbie, I, too, was appalled by the rating given to this film, one of the reasons I gave it such a poor rating. I found the sexual humor both in the first scene and in the “Taboo” game (which may have happened after you left the film) offensive and not at all funny. The MPAA’s rating system is useless when it comes to comedic treatment of sexual material.
    One of the goals of my reviews is to prevent just the kind of bad surprises you had at this film. I hope the information I provide is helpful to you.

  • Your Name

    My friend and I, both “mature” ladies, went to this movie this afternoon, thinking we would have a few laughs and see a fun, fluff movie. I can count on one hand the number of movies I’ve walked out of, and I added this one today. We left just at the beginning of the 3rd Christmas visit, and from what I’ve read I’m glad we did. The sexual crude “humor”, bratty abusive kids,borderline blasphemous treatment of the Christmas story, and sheer stupidity made us feel it was one of the worst movies we’d ever seen. I’ve always like Reese Witherspoon, but my respect for her has diminished. The only positive part of the experience was that the theater gave us coupons for a movie at another time.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I am so sorry you had an awful time but appreciate very much your sharing your reaction to help visitors to the site get a better sense of the film. I agree with your reaction and your disappointment. I am sorry to say it has done very well at the box office, so there may be a sequel!

  • Your Name

    I made the mistake of taking my girl along with my sister-in-law and her kids. Didn’t want to be a stick in the mud, so I went. One thing I wish you had mentioned is that the guy says “there’s no Santa, it’s your parents”. That was pretty awful since our girls still believe in Santa (10 years old). Anyhow, just wanted to put it out there for everyone.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much for bringing this up. It will be very helpful for parents. I agree that no one should take a child young enough to believe in Santa to this raunchy film. All best to you and your family for a very merry and Santa-filled Christmas!

  • Your Name

    I saw this movie, along with my 14 year old son, in a theater on a military base. This was a double feature night, and for reasons known only to the management, ‘Bolt’ was second feature (about 9 pm) and this piece of Tripe ran first!!!
    Military theaters are different; there’s a different flick on every night, w/limited run for each. Kid Flicks draw a big crowd, and if one wants to be guaranteed a seat, the only guarantee is to sit through both movies.
    W/this scenario, it’s easily possible to have kids in PJ’s watching the nasty-mouthed ‘there is no Santa’ movie first, and then falling asleep in the middle of the Disney flick because it’s past their bedtime. I think families of men and women in uniform deserve better, so I’ll be writing a letter to say as much, because this is not the first instance of really Bad Scheduling.

  • Nell Minow

    What were they thinking! I am so sorry to hear about this and would love to know what kind of a response you get to your letter. Thanks so much for letting me know.

  • Jennifer

    I loved the movie, I dont think this has been billed as a childrens movie. Anyone who has seen a Vince Vaughn movie should know what they are in for. Sorry you all didnt appreciate the hillarious movie that it is.

  • Nell Minow

    I’m always glad to hear from anyone who sees more in a movie than I did, Jennifer! Thanks for writing! If you’d like to say more about what you liked in the film, I’m glad to hear it. I’m a big Vince Vaughn fan and hope to see him in a better film soon.

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