Despite its brash title and eccentric bent, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” is, at heart, a pretty traditional holiday picture.
At less than 75 minutes (plus end credits), this flatly shot film plays as if much of its connective tissue was jettisoned to minimize the damage. Still, what remains is mostly enjoyable if familiar stuff sporting a limber ensemble cast.
Joel McHale stars as Boyd Mitchler, a hedge-fund manager living in Chicago with his affable wife, Luann (Lauren Graham), and two kids. When Boyd must return to his Wisconsin hometown on Christmas Eve at the request of his loopy younger brother (Clark Duke), he’s thrown back in with the scrappy, dysfunctional family he’s worked so hard to avoid.
The main target of Boyd’s disdain is his rough-edged, latrine-selling father, Mitch (Robin Williams, in his penultimate live-action role), a recovering alcoholic whose poor child-rearing skills still haunt Boyd. Perhaps Mitch’s most enduring offense: shaking little Boyd’s belief in Santa Claus, something Boyd has vowed to preserve in his own small son, Douglas (Pierce Gagnon).
An obstacle-laden, wee-hours road trip for Boyd and Mitch, a drunken bonding session between Luann and Boyd’s plucky mother (a game Candice Bergen), hallucinogenic pickles and a tippling, Santa-suited hobo (Oliver Platt) disparately factor into the yuletide “festivities.” Boyd’s low-rent sister (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and skeevy brother-in-law (Tim Heidecker) also appear.
Director Tristram Shapeero, who worked with McHale on TV’s “Community,” keeps the silliness bubbling along. The script, credited to Michael Brown — a pseudonym for writer Phil Johnston (publicists declined to provide further comment on that) — overdoes the upper Midwest chipperness and revels in bits of political incorrectness but otherwise amuses.
“A Merry Friggin’ Christmas”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and crude humor throughout.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.