To hell with Anchorman and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell’s milestone performance so far has been Buddy the Elf. Jon Favreau’s Elf is the only, and I emphasize the word only, holiday film to come out this decade that I can think of off the top of my head that I really like. In fact with my most recent viewing, being just last night, I loved it. The reason is because my mother drives myself and my father to the point of insanity as we are forced to watch cheesy, crappy Christmas movies on the Lifetime channel every night of the week during dinner. I told her just the other day, “I have to see almost 200 movies a year and most are not as bad as the lumps of coal that come on Lifetime. Why must I be subjected to this.” Thus it was a relief last night to sit down to a pleasant viewing of Elf, which is what a Christmas movie should be.
The film is filled with rich dialogue, a Santa-sized toy sack full of big laughs, and it features a truly great comedic performance from Mr. Ferrell that deserves to be recognized as as a classic piece of acting. If Ferrell hadn’t gone all the way with his performance, Elf simply would not have worked. Ferrell is altogether sweet, enthusiastic, hilarious, and cheerful. The scene I remember most is when Buddy is in Gimbels and the manager announces that Santa is coming the next day and Ferrell screams with passion “Santa!!!!” Then when Santa does show up, Ferrell looks at the imposter and says “Who the heck are you!” This is great stuff.
But there is more to the film than just the humor. Much more. Favreau perfectly captures the Christmas spirit by showing how Buddy can bring a little joy into a family that is going through tribulations. His father Walter, played by James Caan, undoubtedly represents Mr. Scrooge. He is a workaholic who neglects his family even in the most joyous time of the year. Leave it to Buddy to fix that problem. Then there’s his new half-brother, Michael, who hates his father for never being there for him. There is a sequence in which the two spend an afternoon together, getting into a snowball fight and running around Gimbels. Michael has found the brother-figure that he so desperately needed. Finally, there’s the love interest, Jovie, played by Zooey Deschanel. Here is a lonely and lost person and Buddy is able to put a little joy in her life as well. What makes all this work so well is how the good the dialogue is, which is an extremely rare find in Christmas movies. Granted everything that happens in the last 20 minutes of Elf is a bit silly, everything that comes before it is so well-done that it hardly matters.
Favreau is definitely a director who can get the right touch on even the most trite of genres and make films work. With that in mind, I am excited to see what he does with Iron Man. So the bottom line is: if you and your family has a ritual of watching Christmas movies during the holiday season, then Elf is a must-see and a film that requires further viewings each and every year. It’s a Christmas movie that future Christmas movies should try to emulate. It’s a Christmas movie that really understands what the season is all about while at the same time providing side-splitting laughs.