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Celebrating 2016

Celebrating 2016
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Photo: Glen Wilson/Paramount Pictures 

BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL

I decided to wrap up 2016 (or as I have been calling it: the longest, busiest, often stressful year of my life thus far) with a raucous holiday blow out. So, I, along with my husband Neil and daughter Meg, went to see “Office Christmas Party.”

A couple of decades ago, when I was still on staff full time, I never went to a fete as portrayed in the movie. Every place I ever worked put an end to the holiday hoedown the year before I started. So, my Christmas party experiences amount to standing around the conference room drinking sparkling water and listening to colleagues talk about how the current get-together was a far cry from the previous year when… (fill in litany of indiscretions by co-workers.)

Once I became a freelancer, the whole holiday party thing became moot, since I worked everywhere, but nowhere.

So guess what’s been on my bucket list? But now, thanks to this movie, and all the articles it’s generated about how to recover from getting drunk and telling off the boss, retching all over the client, or that video circulating of you and another employee in a compromising position, I’ve decided to wipe it off my list.

I believe the deal was clinched while watching Courtney B. Vance, as the straight lace client who inhales cocaine that was loaded accidently into the snow making machine, swing from the rafters on a string of blinking lights, a la Tarzan.

When I think back, I realize that getting on at work was hard enough without having to put oneself further behind the eight ball by Xeroxing one’s genitalia—something that can now be done in 3-D, thanks to modern printing capabilities.

But living vicariously through the film’s invite to partyand getting it out of my system—was not the only benefit; it aided in my year-end ritual of taking stock.

Hard to believe, I know, that this popcorn flick about an out-of-hand company function could offer anything more than a few laughs, especially since everyone I know seems to be discussing how affected they were by more serious choices such as “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight,” and “Collateral Beauty.” Really though, I don’t want to spend fifteen dollars to cry. There is enough happening in real life that requires a box of Kleenex.

Besides the gaffaws surrounding a fetishy make-out session in the childcare room, a few computers being tossed out the window rock star-style, and a Kia minivan full of executives on a mission to save branch manager Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) from a gun toting pimp, it’s a story of putting others first, starting over, and forgiveness.

Clay is a trust fund baby with a heart of gold. He heads Zenotek’s Chicago office—the one that his father, who originally owned the Internet company, worked out of. More class clown than corporate executive, Clay doesn’t exactly run a tight ship. He wants desperately though to keep his branch open, not only to honor his dad’s memory, but because he likes and wants to keep employed the cast of characters who work for him. Hence, he often uses his own money to keep the place afloat. Clay’s down to his last 300K, and plans to use it to hand out bonuses.

Even though I don’t manage a corporation, I do manage my life. This time of year, I often feel like J. Paul Getty, stuffing envelopes to give gifts to doormen, teachers and other service people who make my life easier throughout the year. There’ve been years when I’ve done so with a twinge of resentment, or a “let’s get this over with” attitude. Thanks to Miller’s character, I’m inspired to it more good-naturedly this season.

Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) are one-time lovers, but he chose to marry someone else. When the movie opens, Josh is signing divorce papers. The chemistry between the two co-workers is undeniable, and in a now-or-never moment, they have to decide if they’re going to give each other a second chance.

It was a well-needed reminder for me that we may only live once, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start over with a friendship, romantic relationship, or career. “New” doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, if you equate it with “exciting,” it might be easier to get started.

Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) is Clay’s sourpuss sister and acting CEO. To put more money on the books, Carol starts shutting down the least productive branches of the firm; her brother’s is at the top of the list. As the movie progresses, though, we realize that her decision is less about that office’s lack of productivity, and more about a lingering childhood resentment toward her carefree sibling: to counter Clay’s puerile behavior, Carol always had to be the responsible, mature, un-fun one. It’s clear that letting go of a lot will be the only way these two will ever make peace.

I have to admit I’ve always had a problem with the forgiveness thing. It can make me feel as though I’m letting somebody get away with something they did to me. But watching Aniston’s angry Carol talk about things that happened between Clay and her when they were kids as though they happened yesterday, showed me how hanging on to stuff, which in the grand scheme is of no consequence, is the major cause of RBF (Resting Bitch Face.)

The best lesson I learned though was that even though Meg is eighteen, she and Neil and I still love to laugh together—so loudly, in fact, that fellow film goers shushed us more than once.

Happy New Year.

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK, for which a movie version is in the works.