PG! I found a PG! It is the most appropriate MPAA rating I've ever seen. It is entertaining for adults while being live action. I know there were a couple people really fighting for a PG-13 simply because it is live action and it stars Will Ferrell. No! It is a Christmas miracle! PG for all!
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
I have nothing to add to the great discussion. I don't want to write this. I had an insanely busy week, but that busy week just happened to have three movies in it. It sounds like I'm a hypocrite about my time, but it just happened to work out that I watched three movies in a week when I had little time to just relax. I'm not minding, but writing a review for Elf, a movie that everyone's seen, seems like a bit of a burden. To Mr. Favreau and everyone involved in this movie, if the tone feels a little off, realize that you made a fine film and I'm just dragging my heels about writing. While I love writing, the only way to get great at writing is writing when you really don't want to write.
Elf kind of is a special movie. Again, I'm preaching to the choir. Everyone knows this movie. But what makes Elf kind of special is the fact that it is a deep movie disguised as a dumb movie. I know, I just reviewed the final movie in the Apu Trilogy. Yeah, Elf isn't that. But many of the Will Ferrell comedies are entirely carried by Ferrell's charisma. It's why, when many people don't like Will Ferrell, that often means that they can't like anything that he's in. So much of these movies rest on Ferrell to carry the movie. Elf goes beyond that. Elf is a strong premise that is simply amplified by its lead actor. I'm going to go into why Ferrell is the perfect Buddy the Elf, but I want to look at the emotional strength of this movie. The movie plays such tribute to Christmas movies of the past without becoming slavish to those movies. The surreal nature of the opening even has claymation for goodness' sake. The tone of that opening scene wastes no time establishing how far this movie is willing to go in the long run. Considering that the bulk of the movie is set in Hollywood New York (I acknowledge that few films capture the reality of New York, but it gets as close as it can in a Christmas themed movie), it is sensational that the North Pole can be portrayed so well. This might be wrong and I'd love to have a discussion about it, but I don't think any other movie has captured the magic of the North Pole. It's that hint of irony that Favreau paints over the film in the opening sequences. Most, if not all, other movies that have Santa's workshop ask their viewers to suspend a lot of disbelief and act like we're not supposed to see the faults in the production. Favreau, instead, goes to an absolute absurd level of detail and scale that it actually seems magical. He never shoots for reality. This isn't Asgard, but rather a world that follows none of the same rules as settings seen in most movies. There is a joy and mirth infused into those choices, especially when it comes to the color palate. Bob Newhart, sitting in his little rocking chair, quickly develops the movie into what it is meant to be, a loving parody of Christmas movies. The only odd casting in this sequence is Ed Asner, who does a fine job, I suppose. But he also doesn't match the level of commitment. While it is okay that I recognize Newhart, his part doesn't have a mythic element to it. Ed Asner just kind of reminds me of Ed Asner in a Santa suit. But he's fine, I guess.
Ferrell is where the movie really works. I'm about to wax poetic about the talent of Will Ferrell on a blog where I try to watch pretentious Criterion crap, but he really is a smart actor. He commits himself to bits where people draw lines. Ferrell is a physical actor, perhaps a lesser version of a modern day Chaplin. Ferrell doesn't do the choreography of Chaplin, but he shares with Chaplin an understanding of what his body is projecting at every moment. A major joke in Elf is the massive presence that Buddy has, juxtaposed to both the elves of the toy shop and the grumbliness of New York. Ferrell has it in him to seem out of place where ever he goes and he makes that joke work every time. Much of it is carried by the costume itself, but even when Ferrell is dressed in a suit and tie (Is one of the jokes how ridiculous that suit was because I kept questioning how he got that ugly outfit?), he manages to show that he does not belong in this world. Because Ferrell has that spatial awareness, there's never a moment that is wasted. He uses his massive appearance at all times and that's pretty impressive. But that guy is committed to his character. Honest to Pete, I can't think of many people committed to a role on the level that Ferrell does in everything. I saw The Disaster Artist this weekend as well, and Franco did an amazing Tommy Wiseau. But that was based on something. Ferrell created Buddy out of nothing. It could, perhaps, be written as simply unbridled enthusiasm as a character, but Buddy has his own set of rules. Admittedly, much of that had to come from Favreau's script, but I have to believe that Favreau wrote the part of Buddy for Ferrell. I can't see another actor even getting close to the level of commitment that Ferrell gives to Buddy the Elf. The movie works better because of him.
The end gets me a little choked up. I am a big softy when it comes to Christmas stuff. I don't know what it is. Maybe I just really like Christmas. But that ending is extremely touching. What is it with the obsession in believing in Santa? This might be a look at how I'm a broken individual more than anything that has to do with Elf, but I really like something about the power of belief. Elf taps into that pretty nicely, not through the character that is meant to be the antagonist of that, James Caan, but through his son. Okay, that sentence got away from me. James Caan's character is meant to be the character of skepticism. He is as far removed from Buddy the Elf as any character can be. I think that Favreau wanted the story to be experienced from his perspective, but I might fault Caan for being the weakest element of the movie. He's the Scrooge character, but there's nothing really all that sympathetic about it. Thinking of Dickens's character, we have the advantage of looking back in time and seeing the choices that brought Scrooge to be a bad dude. We don't really have the advantage with this one. Rather, Caan is loved by many. I get the vibe that, at one time, Caan's character was this beloved children's book author. But something had to happen to him. That emotional connection isn't really clearly expressed. Rather, Mary Steenburgen and kid genuinely care for this bad dude. We know that he's a bad dude because he's on Santa's naughty list. But it is the characters around him that do the heavy lifting when it comes to the vulnerability that this movie encourages. Part of that is the fact that James Caan might be way too old to be playing the part he is, but also the fact that the kids seem to have the real advantage when it comes to changing their lives. Caan doesn't make a major leap in the story, so much as he is on the right side of neutral. But then again, Favreau may have been toying with that. In the denouement, Buddy doesn't live with his new family. Rather, he returns to the North Pole, happy to have met his family and his new wife. Man, overanalyzing this movie might have ruined part of it for me. What I'm saying is that James Caan isn't very good in this, but the kid saves it, so who cares?
I really like this movie and I keep forgetting how funny it is. I can analyze this movie until the cows come home and it doesn't change the fact that it does its job. It makes me laugh while celebrating holiday spirit. I still giggle when Buddy gets hit by a car. My wife might roll her eyes at me, but that's okay. I love the movie anyway. Also, I don't know it well enough to get bored by it.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.