Being a child of divorce, I can relate to this notion of multiple Christmases, and most people seem to be stressed enough by just the one. Of course, the truth is, if you have divorce in your life or not, you probably already have multiple holiday celebrations: office, friends, in-laws. The holidays are never simple.
So who can blame Brad and Kate for opting out? They’re a fun loving couple in a committed but unmarried relationship who have kept family out of the equation. Instead of choosing between celebrations, they fly south for the holidays, and this year they’ve got their sights set on Fiji. EXCEPT the stupid San Francisco fog has other ideas and their flight is cancelled AND they get caught on live television so the secret’s out and the families start knocking on the door immediately.
Not only are Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) on the hook for 4 Christmases, they’re also meeting each other’s parents for the very first time. And what a motley crew that turns out to be! Kate has a cougarrific Mom (Mary Steenburgen) who’s currently dating a rockstar pastor (Dwight Yoakam) and a sister (Kristin Chenoweth) who is dead set on dredging up her entire embarrassing past and a father (Jon Voight) who’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Meanwhile, Brad hippie Mom (Sissy Spacek) is dating his childhood friend who’s aggressively trying to stepfather him despite the non-existent age difference, and his Dad (Robert Duvall) is rough around the edges, to put it nicely, while his brothers (Tim McGraw, Jon Favreau), UFC wannabes, take rough-housing to an uncomfortable level. So I guess the question is for Brad and Kate: do they know each other well enough to survive this family tornado? Or does their relationship depend on constant fun and no entanglements?
The truth is, every family is a juggling act. I remember the first time I brought Sean home to meet my crazy family. I had prepared him as well as I could: someone will cry, someone will lock themselves in the bathroom in a fit of drama, someone will overshare, someone else will shock him with a highly inappropriate question or six. And you know what? ALL of those things happened that first Thanksgiving, as I knew they would, because they always do. But we had a grand time because they’re a fun if dramatic bunch and the problem with families is not really what they reveal of themselves but what they reveal of YOU – as in that hidden part that you shield from new dating partners. But your Mom will inevitably drag out an old photo album that she refuses to cull of your bad haircut phase, and your sister will you call you by your highly unflattering childhood nickname, and your carefully curated cool girl persona will crumble faster than Mom can say “Who wants seconds?”
Anyway, that’s the holidays. They don’t always bring out the best in us, but maybe they bring out our true selves, for better or worse. And if you can’t let that guard drop in front of your partner, then maybe you aren’t really as close as you think. Four Christmases isn’t a great movie, not destined to be a holiday classic, but you can do worse, I suppose, and around the holidays, any excuse to cuddle up on the couch is a good one.