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Review: The Wearying, Druggy Slog of ‘It’s a Wonderful Binge’

Review: The Wearying, Druggy Slog of ‘It’s a Wonderful Binge’

“Man, actors have a tough life.” 

This is what I think as I look at the progress bar and see that I have thirty minutes left of writer/director Jordan VanDina’s It’s a Wonderful Binge

I think this because I know every actor has to, on some level, know the general quality of whatever project they’re about to become a part of. For instance, the actors in MCU films likely know that, while these films will be big on spectacle and low on insight, they are still (typically) well-made, star-driven vehicles that will delight audiences worldwide. And even if the films they’re in might not end up being added to the Library of Congress, MCU stars know that there is something worthwhile (and financially lucrative) about being involved in Marvel projects, as the Disney-backed universe tries to woo both audiences and critics with quality characters, tone, sets, and writing. 

And then there are the actors that get scripts like the one for It’s a Wonderful Binge.

These actors, decent people like relative newcomers Eduardo Franco (Stranger Things, Booksmart) and Dexter Darden (The Maze Runner) or comedy veterans Tim Meadows and Kaitlin Olson, must know when they read several jokes revolving around the idea that kids cussing is the peak of comedy that a film will be bad. They must know that an It’s a Wonderful Life parody that centers around drugs and alcohol but barely involves either in any meaningful way will be a stinker. What’s hard about an actor’s life is that, if you’re Franco or Darden, or, hey, maybe even Meadows or Olson, you know you can only pass up so many roles. Unless you’re Pacino, De Niro, or Will Smith a year ago, you know that gigs are few and far between, so you have to take what you can get and pray your agent has something better lined up for next time. 

This is all to say I hated this movie with every fiber of my being, but I don’t blame it on the actors or their acting and I don’t fault them for signing up for this mess. But I do have a new loathing for VanDina.

It’s a Wonderful Binge is actually a sequel. I’ll be shocked if anyone has seen its predecessor. Fully titled Binge 2: It’s a Wonderful Binge, the film follows up on a premise established in the first film: in a not-too-distant future when drugs and alcohol have been outlawed (with punishments for a pint of alcohol starting off at 25 years in prison), the US government gives citizens one day of the year where they can imbibe, inject, or inhale whatever they want. Sound familiar? That’s because 2020’s The Binge is a parody of The Purge film series. 

As if those recent, B-grade films were iconic enough to merit such an homage in the first place. And don’t get me wrong: I love many of The Purge films, particularly the second one. The Purge: Anarchy, like It’s a Wonderful Binge, is a sequel, but unlike Binge, Anarchy expands upon the first film’s premise and gives us a look at different groups navigating a colorfully violent world, like The Warriors on steroids. It’s a Wonderful Binge, however, almost seems to forget its whole setup. Drugs and alcohol make their way in, but only once in a way that actually affects the plot. Speaking of which, here’s a short rundown of what this movie considers a plot:

  • The Binge has been moved to Christmas Eve (since no one wants to be sober with family members).
  • Hags (Darden) wants to propose to his girlfriend Sarah (Zainne Saleh), but the ring ends up misplaced and he has to steal it back from an orphanage gift drive.
  • Kimmi (Marta Piekarz) is feeling older after coming back from college and worries she is growing apart from her ex Andrew (Franco) and her best friend Sarah. Also, her Uncle Kris (Nick Swardson) escapes from prison to be home for Christmas.
  • Andrew takes PCP with dangerous vagrant “Angel” (Danny Trejo) and learns what life would have been like for his family had he never been born. For those of us who have seen literally any comedy ever, it’s no spoiler to say that his usually fractious family actually gets along when he’s not there.
  • Neurotic, controlling Mayor Spengler (Olson), mother of Kimmi and sister of Kris (like Kris Kringle, get it?), wants her Winter Wonderland gala to be a drug-free success despite her holding it on the one day where that would be unenforceable if not totally impossible.
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It’s not worth really expanding upon the plot further. Some side characters, usually played by committed, funny actors like comedians Robert Kelly and Patty Guggenheim, pop up and receive an inordinate amount of screentime considering we’re not really meant to root for them one way or the other. The reason for that is because, structurally, It’s a Wonderful Binge is an episodic meandering from skit to skit that doesn’t even get into the Wonderful Life parody until about half-way through. Watching it, I’d begun to think it was just a cutesy name to suggest the holiday theme.

If you think I’m being too hard on this film, please watch it. As a responsible critic, however, I will provide you with a sample of its comedic stylings so you know what you’re getting into. One joke is that Andrew has two dads. It’s not that they’re gay, it’s that Andrew has a fraternal twin brother because his mother had sex with two men in a short period of time and both of them were able to fertilize one egg each. The science of this sounds shaky, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is not an interesting statement on reproductive possibilities but, rather, a lazy “slutty mom” joke. Hilarious. 

To be fair, VanDina’s writing does have inspired moments.

A drug-induced claymation musical number is by far the best part of the film and probably what the whole thing should have been. As a writer, VanDina is credited with working on Hulu’s 2020 Animaniacs reboot. It seems that he tried to bring that same wacko (Yakko, and Dot) energy to live action. Unfortunately, it just didn’t translate.

If you have a fourteen-year-old sibling who’s just discovered pot, introduce this film to them. They’ll love it. For anyone else, though, the film can only function academically, as a cautionary tale on everything wrong with the film industry and the impossibility of saying no as a working actor. This film is a lesson on what not to do and why you should avoid doing it. I’m sorry to have suffered through it, but I feel stronger for having done so. 

I wonder if the actors in it feel the same.

It’s a Wonderful Binge is currently streaming on Hulu.

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