SURVIVING CHRISTMAS and ELF: A BUMPER DOUBLE CHRISTMAS REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
SURVIVING CHRISTMAS. 2004. DIRECTED BY MIKE MITCHELL. STARRING JAMES GANDOLFINI, BEN AFFLECK, CATHERINE O’HARA, JOSH ZUCKERMAN AND CHRISTINA APPLEGATE.
ELF. 2003. DIRECTED BY JON FAVREAU. STARRING WILL FERRELL, JAMES CAAN, MARY STEENBURGEN, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, DANIEL TAY, EDWARD ASNER, PETER DINKLAGE AND BOB NEWHART. FEATURING THE VOICE OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN AS THE POLAR BEAR CUB.
I love these two Christmas comedy films to bits. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless I’ve watched both of ’em, preferably back-to-back. The funny thing is (well, they’re both comedies so technically they’re both meant to be funny!) that one of them was a box-office disaster and the other was a runaway success.
So, which was the stinker that garnered mostly negative reviews and went almost straight-to-video and which was the festive hit that’s become a much-loved perennial favourite, a film that starts gracing our television screens the moment the first of December comes around? I’m going to be a real meanie and not tell you. See if you can guess which is which. The winner gets a candy cane…!
SURVIVING CHRISTMAS is the story of an eccentric young millionaire, Drew Latham, who finds himself unexpectedly alone for Christmas. Troubled by painful childhood memories of the festive season, he pays an ordinary American family a quarter of a million bucks to let him spend Christmas with them.
The one condition he lays down is that the family, the Valcos, take part whole-heartedly in the traditions and celebrations of Christmas for his benefit. Can they put up with Drew’s nonsense and endless festive demands? Well, let’s just say that a quarter of a million big ones is a mighty tempting incentive…
I’ve never liked Ben Affleck in anything else but this one film. He has an innocent, Buddy The Elf-like quality about him that makes his character appealing and even vulnerable. He’s lonely at Christmas and he wants to experience a nice traditional family Christmas like the ones he never got to have when he was a kid. What the hell is wrong with that? Nothing at all, Drew, that’s what. Nothing at all.
He wants the full works too: the tree, the decorations, the presents, the snowball fights, the roaring fire, Christmas jumpers and his ‘Dad’ to wear a Santa hat when they go Christmas tree shopping. All the trappings of Christmas are present and correct in the film so it’s gorgeously festive to look at, which is certainly important in a Crimbo movie.
The main reason I like this film is that James ‘Tony Soprano’ Gandolfini plays Tom Valco, the big, burly bearded paterfamilias. He brings a lot of Tony to the role. He has Tony’s impatience, quick temper and intolerance for anything that he sees as wasting his time or being unworthy of his attentions.
His marriage to Carmela, sorry, I mean, Christine Valco is on the rocks and life seems to have lost its flavour for the couple. Can Drew’s enthusiasm for capturing the perfect family Christmas rekindle the spark in their tired relationship? It might, or then again it might not. We’ll have to see…
Highlights include the two Doo-Dahs, ‘Mom’s’ sexy photo-shoot, and the ultra-posh Van Gilders witnessing what they think is an incestuous snog between Drew and his pretty ‘sister,’ Alicia Valco.
ELF, on the other hand, is the tale of an orphaned human boy called Buddy who is raised in the North Pole by Santa and his elves. When he is all grown-up and a little too big and clumsy and ungainly for Santa’s workshop, he goes on a quest to find his real father, Walter Hobbs, who works as a book publisher in New York City. Walter is obsessed with work, has virtually no Christmas spirit and is not one iota pleased to find out that he has a fully-grown elf for a son.
Walter’s wife Emily and son Michael come round to the idea of Buddy staying with them quickly enough, but Walter continues to hold out. Can Buddy melt his father’s stony heart and teach his grumpy dad the true meaning of Christmas? Well, it’s a Christmas film so I’m sure you can probably work out the answer to that all by yourself, haha!
The whole film is literally bedecked (Is that a word? Bedecked?) with the frills and furbelows of the happiest season of the year. (C’mon, I’m just going by what the Crimbo songs say!). It’s simply breath-taking to look at. The shops are fantastic. No-one does Christmas like the Americans, and maybe the New Yorkers do it best of all.
The department stores, the shopfronts, the streets, the houses, everything is lit up like a… well, like a Christmas tree, haha. It’s a winter wonderland of snow. It’s just beautiful. You’re guaranteed to feel Christmassy and full of love for your family after watching ELF. Guaranteed.
Will Ferrell is superb as Buddy, the elf with the child-like qualities of innocence, fun, generosity of spirit and a belief in magic and all things Christmassy. It’s my favourite performance of his, apart from maybe his portrayal of figure-skater Chazz Michael Michaels in the superlative and screamingly funny BLADES OF GLORY, in which he co-stars with Jon Heder.
The funniest scenes in ELF are the ones with childrens’ author Miles Finch, whose small stature leads Buddy to call him an ‘elf,’ and the one in which Buddy helps his new brother Michael to win a snowball fight against some bullies. Also, BRING YOUR GROWN-UP ELF SON TO WORK DAY, which is what it should be called, is an unmitigated disaster for Walter Hobbs but is hilarious to watch. The whole film is a gem. It’s perfect family viewing and a must-have in your festive movie collection.
By the way, have you worked out yet which film was the stinker and which was the runaway success? You have? Well done. You may help yourself to a candy cane. Just the one, mind. I’m not made of flippin’candy canes…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
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