Director: Chris Kasick
Cast: Brian Posehn, Paget Brewster, Beau Ballinger, Missi Pyle and Melia Renee
Watch Uncle Nick online in the UK: Netflix UK
Every day until Christmas Eve, we unwrap another one of Netflix UK’s Christmas films and sort the naughty from the nice. It’s the #12DaysofNetflix. (Click here for the full list.)
If the Christmassy calibre of the movies on our countdown of Netflix seasonal streamers so far conjures fond memories of Uncle Buck, in which an eccentric relative comes to liven up the lives of an unhappy family, then you should get that out of your head right now. Inexplicably produced by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, Uncle Nick is, at best, a scabrous third cousin to that kind of film, with a pitch-black streak of comedy that makes it a cold but decidedly un-festive offering.
‘Tis the night before Christmas in Cleveland, Ohio, and Nick (Brian Posehn) has been invited to spend the holiday with his hated younger brother, Cody (Beau Ballinger), and his “hot cougar wife”, Sophie (Paget Brewster), who are celebrating together for the first time. Nick is no saint, though, and takes along enough booze to fell an elephant, while also planning to make a move on his 20-year-old step-niece Valerie (Melia Renee), with whom he has a flirty and entirely inappropriate rapport.
The framing device of the film is a gorgeous metaphorical recounting of the Cleveland Indians’ infamous Ten Cent Beer Night in 1974, as told by Nick, with nostalgic black-and-white chapter headings mischievously foreshadowing imminent mayhem. Just as the fans got much too drunk much too quickly on the ludicrously discounted booze, so Nick inflicts a little chaos upon his family by his uninhibited behaviour.
Again, that said, there’s little about this that’s bawdy or fun. Posehn is best known for his deadpan delivery and his turn as surly sad sack Nick is something of a departure for him, taking on a far more emotional dimension, as he indulges himself at an especially difficult time of year. He’s very good as a character who is, by his own admission, rather too gross to be taken at face value.
Ballinger is usefully, ludicrously hateable as his baby brother, to whom satisfaction seems to come much more easily. Next to this spoiled, vindictive t-shirt entrepreneur, Nick is the very height of sympathy, but both of them play it well, along with Missi Pyle as the long-suffering middle child Michelle, who genuinely seems to be the most well-adjusted member of the family. Scott Adsit is great, too, as her husband, Kevin, wittering on about his podcast, which nobody in or outside of his immediate family has bothered to support.
Soon enough, “antics escalate” (as one of the baseball chapter headings describes it) to where serious emotional reckonings take place and none of the characters have an especially merry Christmas. A lesser, broader film might have tried to get you on Nick’s side in wooing a much younger woman, but director Chris Kasick and writer Mike Demski wisely unwrap this character to find the narrative, rather than romanticising his drunken conduct. The result doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies, but it is a more substantial character study as a result.
Uncle Nick is neither subtle nor in-your-face as many of the Christmas flicks currently playing in cinemas. Bad Santa 2 and Office Christmas Party are no more festive than this indie comedy, but this one is more worthwhile, even if its dysfunctional dynamics are unlikely to get you excited at this most wonderful time of the year. It’s not a big laugher, but it certainly peddles its alternative Christmas message of family feuds and boozy baseball anecdotes with conviction.
Uncle Nick is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.