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Representing one of Robin Williams‘ last films, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas lives up to its bah, humbug title. Not only because it’s terrible, although it is, but rather because one desperately hoped that the beloved actor would go out on a high note. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with this dysfunctional family holiday comedy that squanders the talents of its impressive cast who presumably signed on merely to work with the comedy legend.
Of course, it’s hard to watch the film under any circumstances considering what we now know about Williams’ mental state. The actor goes through his formulaic paces with his usual professionalism, but his performance is dispiriting for reasons that sadly go beyond the mediocre material.
Joel McHale actually has the lead role in this effort directed by his Community collaborator Tristram Shapeero, who signed on to the project after Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) bowed out (they remain as executive producers). Abandoning his usual snarky persona, the actor plays Boyd, a well-heeled Chicago hedge fund manager who still bears the scars of his troubled relationship with his misanthropic, ex-alcoholic father Mitch (Williams) who ruined Christmas for him when he was a child.
Overcompensating as a parent, he’s desperate to instill an appreciation for the holiday in his young son Douglas (Pierce Gagnon). That isn’t easy when the boy’s exposure to Santa comes in the form of a drunken hobo (Oliver Platt) who pops periodically to provide not so comic relief.
Further complicating things is the impromptu family reunion precipitated by his brother Nelson’s (Clarke Duke) sudden announcement of his new baby’s christening on Christmas Eve. So Boyd dutifully brings his family, including his wife (Lauren Graham) and young daughter (Bebe Wood) to his parents’ Wisconsin home to spend the holiday.
Cue the tense family dynamics, with Mitch, despite being sober, not exactly being a welcoming patriarch, and Boyd’s mother (Candice Bergen), sister (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and brother-in-law (Tim Heidecker) only adding fuel to the fire.
When Boyd improbably discovers that he’s left his Christmas gifts for his family back home, it spurs an overnight road trip to Chicago in which he and his father eventually manage to patch up their differences, not that audiences will actually care.
Michael Brown‘s witless, formulaic screenplay seems tailor-made for television, with Williams, whose character describes himself as “king of the crappers,” sadly unable to elevate the material.
There are still screen performances by Williams yet to be seen, including his reprisal of Teddy Roosevelt in the upcoming Night at the Museum installment. Let’s hope they provide a more fitting send-off to this brilliant performer who left us much too soon.
Production: Sycamore Pictures
Cast: Joel McHale, Robin Williams, Candice Bergen, Lauren Graham, Clarke Duke, Oliver Platt, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tim Heidecker
Director: Tristram Shapeero
Screenwriter: Michael Brown
Producers: Tom Rice, Ben Nearn
Executive producers: Michael Flynn, Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Director of photography: Giovani Lampassi
Production designer: John Collins
Editor: Christian Kinnard
Costume designer: Sara O’Donnell
Composer: Ludwig Goransson
Casting: Juel Bestrop Josh Einsohn
Rated PG-13, 87 min.
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