Review: ‘Christmas with the Campbells’ is an invite everyone should avoid
Due out on AMC+ and in selected cinemas from Dec. 2, Christmas with the Campbells is a yuletide story of togetherness, which gets by on festive cheer and paper-thin plotlines.
Penned in part by Vince Vaughn (Fighting with My Family), this by-the-numbers rom-com stars Justin Long (Barbarian), Alex Moffat (Clifford the Big Red Dog), and Brittany Snow (X). As David, Shawn, and Jesse, these three actors do the best they can with sub-standard material.
After 10 minutes of traditional Christmas cliches which include festive credits, incidental sleigh bells, and hollow attempts at a dramatic opening, Jesse (Snow) and Shawn (Moffat) break up. He wants to remain a bachelor and pursue his high-flying job, while she wants to settle down and start a family.
From the outset, this film adheres to outmoded gender stereotypes that characterize Jesse as family-focused, while Shawn is quintessentially male. His selfish motives, self-absorbed behavior, and desire to play the field mark him out as an idiot. Christmas with the Campbells might have many failings, but chief amongst them is any hint of a progressive attitude.
Following the break up there is a predictable phone call from the in-laws Liz (Julia Duff) and Robert (George Wendt), who invite Jesse over for Christmas. After 30 minutes she has settled in, while her ex remains oblivious – having delayed his arrival due to work.
What follows is a saccharine-soaked family get-together, which introduces Jess to David (Long) – a tenuous connection to the Campbells who comes across as all sorts of wholesome. With a shaggy dog, pickup truck, and trendy stubble – David feels like the perfect holiday rebound. Predictably, Shawn returns home to find David and Jesse becoming close, which opens the floodgates for a stream of badly judged jokes, which are both chauvinistic and poorly executed. Ultimately, this undermines any enjoyment going forward and tarnishes this title even more.
Unfortunately, Christmas with the Campbells also suffers from a lack of tonal consistency throughout, since Moffat and Long appear to be in two different films — much of that confusion comes from the script, which is trying to please everyone but ends up sacrificing substance for cheap laughs. Long is a better actor than this, and clearly has mortgage payments to make. His versatility as a performer in other projects works against him here — since audiences who have seen films like Tusk and Barbarian will be disappointed.
David is character acting on cruise control, which requires only a small injection of charisma to work — a fact which is blatantly clear from the autopilot Long engages on his way to paying that pressing bill. Snow fares no better playing Jesse, since the adherence to outmoded gender stereotypes throughout, turns this wholesome Christmas rom-com into an uncomfortable experience.
Moffat is equally hamstrung as oily ex-boyfriend Shawn, single-handedly setting gender politics back 10 years, by undermining the female identity and consigning them to the kitchen. Not only through the objectification of Jesse, who he deems incapable of being an equal part of their relationship, but also because his motives for keeping them together are borne out of male ego.
Meanwhile, sitcom legend George Wendt (Cheers) plays second fiddle to Julia Duff, who might be the only redeeming feature in this film. Alongside Long, she holds the paper-thin premise together, while others are too busy cashing their check. Whether demanding regular satisfaction from her put-upon husband or handing out sage advice to Jesse when audiences have already figured out the endgame — Julia Duff soldiers on in the face of some relentless Christmas cliches.
Unfortunately, beyond that, Christmas with the Campbells is a fundamentally lazy yuletide cash-in, which will fool no one as it flagrantly attempts to manipulate audiences into feeling entertained. For movies that extol the virtues of Christmas, dive into some classics this holiday season instead. Consider It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street (both versions) — or finally, that revered classic in the action canon Die Hard.
With the best will in the world, audiences looking to enjoy some festive movie moments this year, should avoid Christmas with the Campbells and opt for anything else. Not even the presence of Long should factor into the decision because honestly, he looks like he would rather be anywhere else but on screen.
This year visit anyone else but the Campbells.