Another year, another cheesy, hypocritical movie about how the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the madness of Christmas. Except that this movie is, in itself, Exhibit A in the Christmas Madness category. And, to boot, it has unforgiveably crude, ugly and homophobic “humor.” Doesn’t that sound like fun for the whole family!
Steve (Matthew Broderick) is an ophthalmologist (Get it? He helps people to see clearly but he isn’t seeing clearly!) who runs Christmas celebrations — his family’s and his town Christmas festival — like a military campaign. He explains to his wife (“Sex in the City’s” Kristin Davis), “I’m not intense; I’m just extremely organized.” She responds, “When you’re talking about Christmas carols, you shouldn’t have to use the term ‘flanking maneuver.'” But Steve was an army brat who always longed for the kind of stability a full-scale Christmas celebration exemplified. And that means that he has his own five-year-at-a-time Christmas tree-growing plot and that every year his family wears matching sweaters for their annual Christmas card photo.
For every id movie character who is “extremely organized” there must be a superego character who is a disruptive free spirit. Cue Danny DeVito as Buddy, a genial salesman who is looking for a way to do something “big, important, monumental.”
When his daughters show him that their community can be seen on the internet via satellite, but their house does not show up, he knows what that big, important, monumental achievement will be. He will decorate their home so brightly that it will be seen by the satellite.
And thus we are subjected to a series of foolish and destructive one-upsmanhip battles to be “the Christmas guy,” as Steve’s and Buddy’s families stand by and shake their heads in disapproval and disbelief. The film even has the nerve to try to rip-off/parody the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
I no longer find it ironic when movies purport to pay tribute to the true meaning of Christmas as they perpetuate the synthetic, over-the-top commercialism of the season; I just find it tedious. The characters in this movie do take time away from their silly competition to….enjoy quiet moments with their families? Come up with ideas for thoughtful, low-key gifts? Go to church? Help those less fortunate? Nope, to watch movies — better movies that do have messages about the true meaning of Christmas, like Miracle on 34th Street and Meet Me In St. Louis. My recommendation to anyone who is looking for a movie about the true spirit of Christmas and a meaningful way to connect with family is to skip this cynical junk and watch those instead.
Parents should know that the movie includes some crude humor about a cross-dressing man whose lacy underwear is visible under his clothes, peeping toms, men in a sleeping bag who are naked for warmth, fathers who ogle pretty girls (“Who’s your daddy!”) only to find they are their daughters (“Oh no! I’m your daddy!”), racing off to splash holy water in their eyes to purify themselves, some humor about young teenagers dating sailors and faking IDs, a joke about a man exposing himself, and mild sexual situations and references involving married couples, including a reference to a stripper pole in the bedroom. There is a some comic peril and violence, with no one badly hurt. Characters’ behavior is foolish, egotistical, and selfish.
Families who see this movie should talk about how other parts of their lives affected the way that Buddy and Steve felt about Christmas and about the parts of their own celebrations that are most meaningful to them.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.