Office Christmas Party Gifts Us With The Same Old Sexist Stereotypes

Photo: Paramount Pictures
I love a raunchy, ridiculous comedy, and I'm not ashamed to admit that my cinematic tastes are not necessarily refined. To this day, I laugh so hard I shed actual tears when watching The Hangover or Pineapple Express. That's just how I roll. So I was obviously excited to check out Office Christmas Party, which promised to deliver "the greatest party ever thrown" as a corporate holiday shindig turned on its head — featuring some of the funniest actors in Hollywood, including Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, and Jennifer Aniston, to boot. And let's be real: it has been a year. There have been so many depressing, heartbreaking, maddening, confusing, and scary moments since last Christmas that I think we deserve a little silly, mindless humor. That's the beauty of going to the movies, after all: That dark theater has the capacity to transport you to a different place for a couple of hours to laugh at silly, unrealistic shit and not feel the real world's problems. (Popcorn, snacks, and no phones don't hurt, either.) Office Christmas Party is a cross between The Hangover and The Night Before, and for all the aforementioned reasons I really thought it would be a winner. But while it definitely brought some LOLs, it's not quite destined to become an instant holiday classic — and it's not quotable enough to be remembered in the vein of Elf or even Bad Santa. Nor are there any standout characters or moments that people will laugh about for years to come. The film, directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, also had some major plot issues. (For those of you who don't want spoilers, this is the point of no return.) Every single tired office stereotype that can exist in a movie does exist in this movie — and women are treated especially terribly. Receptionists getting in trouble for wearing tight pencil skirts and low-cut blouses to work? Check. The standard by-the-books HR rep who wears pearls, drives a minivan, and delights in forcing everyone to adhere to every rule? Obviously she's in there. Overweight, sassy Black female security guard? Yep, that happens. And the administrative assistant that does everything for everyone and whose talent goes unnoticed? She's accounted for, too.

The writers had a plum opportunity to satirize office stereotypes or make a salient point about them. But instead they went for the low-hanging fruit, expecting that audiences would look past the laziness. Relying on these tired tropes was the easy approach, and it's maddening to watch how it plays out. The two most disappointing characters in the movie were arguably the most famous female names: Jennifer Aniston and Olivia Munn, who were both billed as multidimensional characters because of their powerful positions in Zenotek, the software firm on the brink of closure.

The writers had a plum opportunity to satirize office stereotypes or make a salient point about them. But instead they went for the low-hanging fruit.

Aniston plays Carol, the interim CEO at Zenotek. She fulfills every bad female in power trope possible, while her brother (played by Silicon Valley's T.J. Miller) gets to be the cool, goofy boss who everyone likes and wants to grab a beer with. The entire office fears Carol, who is on a mission to shut down the branch and lay everyone off, right before the holidays. In the press note about the movie, the synopsis called her character "somewhat unlikeable." (Ugh.) But it actually seems like the goal was to make her as "unlikeable" as possible, and it's unfortunate. In truly predictable form, Carol's human side only comes out in the end of the movie, when she suddenly becomes the Louboutin-wearing Grinch whose heart grows three sizes that day. Yawn. As for her brother, Clay? He becomes the adored, admired, well-liked office hero that will do anything — including using all his own money — to save everyone's jobs, while Carol has to be the "boss from hell," the cold-as-ice character who actually gives the middle finger to a child in an airport. Munn's character, Tracey, is the Lead Systems Engineer, the "resident brainiac" who (spoiler alert!) singlehandedly saves the company in one fell swoop. It's nothing new for Munn, who is frequently typecast in roles meant to maximize her "I'm really hot but I'm also a geek so I'm relatable, I swear" appeal. While it's great that a woman is being portrayed onscreen doing a job that typically belonged to the boys' club, the filmmakers ruin it by turning Tracey into the love interest for her own boss. That's as cliché as they come. Of her role, Munn told The New York Times, "I love finding roles where the woman is smart, and being a love interest does not define who she is." Except: That's exactly what ends up happening when the two hook up at the end of the movie. Why did she have to be a love interest at all? And for her boss, of all people? Men weren’t safe from the tropes, either (including, but not limited to, the nerdy guy constantly getting teased for having an imaginary online girlfriend). But the vast majority of the female characters wound up being nothing more than exaggerated caricatures, and that's where this raucous comedy failed. What could have been a big moment for women in comedy — showing them in powerful corporate leadership roles — ended up as a pile of old tired stereotypes wrapped up in a shiny Christmas bow. Sorry, ladies. You deserved better. Audiences do, too.

Office Christmas Party debuts in theaters on December 9.

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