Exclusive: Christmas with the Campbells Director and Star on Their Naughty but Nice Holiday Film – MovieWeb

Clare Niederpruem and JoAnna Garcia Swisher discuss their delightfully funny holiday movie co-written by Vince Vaughn, Christmas with the Campbells.
The holidays can get even weirder when you're in a relationship or married. Instead of feigning interest in your cousin's new pyramid-shaped business plan and your disgruntled grandfather's awkward opinions on immigration, or acting delighted by your newly gifted sweater and commemorative edition of The Hunt For Red October, you have new hurdles to jump. The claustrophobia of in-laws and strange houses can be overwhelming, alleviated only by secretive chugs of eggnog and squeezing your partner's hand in Morse code.
The new film Christmas with the Campbells, however, flips the script — Jesse (a charming Brittany Snow) likes her boyfriend Shawn's family almost more than him (the funny SNL alumni Alex Moffat). When he breaks up with her and heads to New York for a job interview at Christmastime, the freshly dumped beauty takes his parents (the delightful George Wendt and Julia Duffy) up on their offer to still spend the holiday with them. While there, she falls for her ex's cousin David (a hilarious Justin Long), who is being pursued by local business owner and assertive flirt Becky (the confident stand-out JoAnna Garcia Swisher).
Simultaneously set apart from traditional holiday movies while also embracing their sentimental structure, Christmas with the Campbells is a funnier and more offbeat (yet still warmly comforting) version of Hallmark or Lifetime Christmas movies. Co-written by comedy institution Vince Vaughn, the brilliant Dan Lagana of American Vandal, and Hallmark queen Barbara Kymlicka, and directed by the prolific Clare Niederpruem, Christmas with the Campbells is a real surprise and a fun alternative to the usual holiday movie. Niederpruem and Swisher spoke to MovieWeb about the film and how it stands out from the snowy landscape this winter.
While Christmas with the Campbells begins like any other holiday rom-com, it slowly becomes clear that more is going on here. The first hints come with Moffat's ridiculous dialogue as his character breaks up with Jesse, insisting that he's always available to meet her sexual needs as part of some warped 'healing process.' When Jesse goes to stay with his parents in the days leading up to Christmas, some of the situations and dialogue burst out of the proverbial blue with surprising hilarity. Christmas with the Campbells balances that odd tone of both parodying something but also adhering faithfully to its structure and paying it homage, similar to this year's The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window. Is it satire, or just a funnier version of the real thing?
"I think I'll go with the latter," said Swisher, stating that the film is the real deal. "It is heartfelt, and there are a lot of characters that you really love. I think all the characters, even Alex's character, is likable, and I love the notion that there's a non-judgmental vibe. It's very sweet, but also not afraid to kind of go after the raunchy joke. I tend to have a little bit of a darker sense of humor; I think about these things all the time, so it's fun to be able to do something that I know. And people love Christmas movies to get in the holiday spirit, but [Christmas with the Campbells] does it in a really funny, kind of naughty way."
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"I think it takes the template and then colors all over it, paints outside the lines," added Niederpruem. "I've done a fair amount of Christmas movies, and it's its own genre. It really is about creating the magic of Christmas and having that cozy feeling by the fire with your family, and the twinkly lights and snow, and we wanted to take that in Christmas with the Campbells and then surprise you with some of the dialogue and some of the jokes. So what I think is really fun about it is, it's true to the genre, but it really adds its own flavor. It's like all the sweetness of a Christmas movie and a little bit of spice, which I think will make it stand out and makes it so fun to watch."
When Niederpruem says that it "takes the template and then colors all over it," she's almost speaking literally. The script was originally by Kymlicka, who has written over a dozen Hallmark movies, but it was then edited and played with by Vaughn and Lagana (who has a great history of parodying traditional forms while honoring them, as in the Peabody-winning American Vandal and the Paramount+ show Players).
"I think it's more of a subversion," said Niederpruem. "They had a Hallmark writer, an experienced Hallmark writer, do the original version of the script, and then Vince Vaughn and Dan Lagana came in and put their own spin on it. And I think that that's exactly what the movie is. Everyone on the set loves Hallmark movies, and Vince himself and his wife watch them all the time together, and I think that's where this idea came from. What if we took that, but people were actually saying the naughtier jokes that we would say today, and actually having relationships outside of just being nice, as you sometimes see. I think it was almost like their love letter to this genre, and then putting their own little spin on it. I wouldn't exactly call it a spoof, but it definitely wants to take the genre and then add its own flavor to it."
Related: The Best Dark or Sad Christmas Movies
"Vince Vaughn has never done this before, and I tend to find everything he does pretty funny and hilarious. It's offbeat," added Swisher, who had proved her comic talent in shows like Freaks and Geeks, Reba, and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. Swisher had worked with both Vaughn and Niederpruem before, so she happily "hopped on a plane" as soon as she was needed, in between starring in the more dramatic and moving series Sweet Magnolias. Her performance here is perfectly in sync with what Christmas with the Campbells sets out to do.
"I think that it's just a lot of fun," Swisher said. "It's meant to enjoy, and it definitely is Christmasy. It puts you in that kind of holiday spirit. You're getting all the eggnog and all the Christmas treats and the light show, and all of that, but it's just a little offbeat. So I feel like it's finally something for everyone that wants a holiday movie, but wants something that pushes the envelope a little bit."
It's easy for a Christmas film to get lost in the crowd of similar titles over the season, but it's also risky to push the envelope too far and alienate a majority of viewers. Therefore, Christmas with the Campbells needed to strike a difficult tonal balance in order to succeed.
"We definitely found the tone as we were shooting," explained Niederpruem. "But one thing that we would talk about a lot on set is making sure that we really felt like these characters are being true to who they are and to the relationships. We wanted some of that Christmas magic in there, and we wanted people to want our lead characters to fall in love just as much as a Hallmark movie, or any really any Christmas love story. So we were really true to that […] On top of that, it was like, what funny thing could this character say in this moment."
Fortunately, the cast is very comically talented, from Wendt's often befuddled father character and Swisher's confidently sexual one, to Justin Long's absolutely hilarious non sequiturs and weird similes. "They're all such good actors that they know to be grounded, even as they're saying some ridiculous stuff. And I think what grounds them, also, is Brittany Snow's performance as Jesse, because she is kind of the audience in a way, she's reacting to all this craziness around her in such an honest way. I think that's really what grounds the film, is her character and her performance, because then you feel like you can go along with the journey because she's going along."
Niederpruem had a creatively nurturing set, especially for comedic instincts. "We had a lot of fun. We did a lot of improvising on set," said the filmmaker. "Vince and our other writer Dan would be giving the actors new lines as we're filming the scene, which was so fun to watch, because all of these actors could handle it and loved it. So that's kind of how we found a lot of the jokes. Of course, we would always make sure we got a take that was true to the script so that we could tell a cohesive story, because we really wanted the love story to come through. We wanted people to care about if these characters ended up together, and so we didn't want to lose that. But in order to find some of the more R rated jokes, yeah, there was a lot of improvising and trying things out, which was so fun to watch and just such a joy to see."
Christmas with the Campbells is equally fun to watch, and will be a joy for the slightly older members of the family who actually want to laugh out loud and add a bit of spice to the warm, sweet holiday season. RLJE Films and AMC+ present Christmas with the Campbells, which is in theaters and streaming on AMC+ today, December 2.
Editor and writer for Movieweb.com. Lover of film, philosophy, and theology. Amateur human. Contact him at matthew.m@movieweb.com

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