I thought I had more to say about Christmas specials, but reading back over yesterday’s post, I realized I had pretty much covered it. Year Without a Santa Claus is probably my favorite of the stop motion thingees, but they went and ruined it with a live action version a couple of years ago.
Which brings me to today’s subject: Christmas movies. Most of them really, really stink.
I can’t stand movies where it’s all about fights and Christmas debacles and things breaking. I saw the promos for Four Christmases and decided I’d rather have my bowels removed with an ice cream scoop before having to sit through something like that. Real Christmas celebrations are hectic enough without having to derive entertainment from the sufferings of others. Which is why I’ve never understood the appeal of Christmas Vacation, which I rewatched the other day with the ad agency that sent me the urine-themed Christmas card.
What about Christmas Vacation is funny?
It begins with Chevy Chase, who is easily the least talented Saturday Night Live alum with a movie career. Chase’s contempt for the characters he plays is so unwatchably smug that I can’t understand who would find it entertaining. As a real-life family man, I have no patience for watching Chase attempt to mock me without benefit of wit or affection. Every second he’s on screen is like nails on a chalkboard.
The rest of the movie is exhausting. Things explode. Things break. Cats are fried. We get ten minutes on emptying the s—ter in an RV. It’s busy, not funny. And it’s mean. Old people are all buffoons. Christmas sentiment is ridiculed. Religion is a punchline. No thanks.
Much better is A Christmas Story, which, unlike Chase’s atrocity, actually has affection for the things it mocks. Darren McGavin is delightful as the crusty midwestern Dad, even though he’s too old for the part by about thirty years. The humor here is much gentler, yet much more on target. It feels like a real Christmas, even though it’s entirely unlike any Christmas I’ve ever had.
I also love It’s a Wonderful Life for all the reasons everyone loves it, but I also love the Beavis and Butthead version where an angel shows Butthead how much better the world would be without him. I enjoy Patrick Stewart’s version of A Christmas Carol, mainly because I saw him perform his one-man version live back in the early ’90s. Most versions of A Christmas Carol aren’t really that good, although, surprisingly, obne of my favorites is Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which has some fun songs and a very faithful rendition of the classic tale. I know most of the songs from the musical Scrooge, but I can’t stand sitting through the actual movie, because the songs stop the action and just get in the way.
I also heartily recommend Elf, the best Christmas movie of the 21st century, due mainly to its deft and breezy scripty, as well as the flawless performances by all players involved, especially Will Ferrell in the title role. Ferrell is the anti-Chase – he plays Buddy the Elf without a whiff of cynicism. James Caan as his father centers the movie with his worldly disdain, and the whole thing works better than it should.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be cleaning the house. So Merry Christmas.