Welcome to Alt-Christmas, our week of articles dedicated to movies that we like to watch this time of year, especially if we’re not entirely in the spirit of the season.
Christmas is a lot like the Fast and the Furious franchise — it’s all about family. What family means to each individual differs from person to person, sure, but for most of us, our fondest memories of the holiday season involve spending time with the people we hold dearest. That’s definitely the case for me anyway — my happiest Christmas memories are of the simple times as a kid, hanging out with my grandparents when time was still on their side.
I was raised by my grandparents for the first few years of my life. I lived with them from my diaper days until I was seven-years-old and capable of wiping myself like a champ. For a long time, they were my parents. In addition to teaching me how to use the toilet and clean myself, they also introduced me to some of the entertainment I consumed at an impressionable age, and given that my grandpa was a lover of action movies, crime dramas, and westerns, I was exposed to some great films and TV shows I probably shouldn’t have been watching. And in my household growing up, the Yuletide season was all about Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
Of course, my childhood memories are hazy and foggy. However, in my mind, whenever I think back to those halcyon days, Lethal Weapon dominates my thoughts. Mainly because it played on TV during the holidays and my grandpa received the box set as a gift one year and all four movies were constantly on rotation in our home. Die Hard was also a big deal, but we always preferred Lethal Weapon. The odd couple dynamic made us laugh and the shootouts gave us thrills.
For years that’s all Lethal Weapon was — a fun buddy cop movie with wisecracking and bullets. In recent years, though, my relationship with the film has taken on a deeper meaning.
As we get older, we’re forced to accept that the time we get to spend with our loved ones has an expiry date. As such, the jolliest month of the year is also a period of mourning as we remember those who are no longer with us. When my grandpa passed away in 2013, Christmas lost some of its spark. Last September, my grandma joined her soulmate in the next life after a long battle with cancer. When December arrived, it felt like the end of an era.
When we’re introduced to Martin Riggs (Gibson) in Lethal Weapon, he’s on the brink of suicide following the death of his wife. He lives in a trailer with his dog, and his breakfast diet consists of nicotine and alcohol. Needless to say, he’s not feeling too festive, but the job keeps him going. His partner, Roger Murtaugh (Glover), meanwhile, has the perfect set-up. He owns a nice house in the suburbs and he wakes up to cake and kisses from his family. He’s a grumpy old man at times, but you know his Christmas is going to be cozy, warm, and full of the companionship and love most of us crave this time of year especially.
As people, Riggs and Murtaugh don’t seem compatible at first, but if cinema has taught us anything it’s that sometimes even polar opposites can come together and form special bonds. When our heroes are forced to work together, Murtaugh isn’t too fond of his new partner. But that all changes when they find out that Gary Busey and his drug buddies are importing and distributing heroin. Riggs and Roger learn to tolerate each other for the sake of completing the job as delivering justice is one thing they do have in common. When Roger’s daughter gets kidnapped by the scumbags, their forced tolerance becomes so much more than a work colleague. By the time it’s all over, they’re brothers.
In many ways, Lethal Weapon is an alt-Christmas movie. It opens with Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” playing as a woman snorts cocaine and leaps to her own death. Our first sighting of a Santa Claus is during a scene where Riggs helps a suicidal guy jump from a ledge (to save him of course). There’s also a fair amount of crime and killing happening as well, which doesn’t exactly suggest festive joy. The holiday setting is understated, but it exists as a backdrop to a story set in a world where Christmas seems like an afterthought.
It’s all just window dressing, though. Because Lethal Weapon is a heartwarming holiday tale disguised as an alt-Christmas movie and it’s not fooling anyone.
We can’t say that Riggs comes out of Lethal Weapon completely better, but he’s in a much better place by the end of the film than he was at the start. The movie ends with Roger welcoming Riggs into his home to spend the holiday not only with his family but as part of it. What’s more Christmassy than that?
Most of us can empathize with Riggs at some point. We all lose people and it sucks. But even though a huge part of me still longs for it to be perfect again, this year I’m choosing to re-adjust and make fresh happy memories with the people I’m still fortunate enough to have in my life.
Lethal Weapon is a reminder that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted, and that’s what Christmas is all about.