Playing in the snow
Will Farrell rescues thin script in fun Christmas film
I found out at an early age that there was no Santa Claus. Disturbed by schoolyard murmurings about the validity of his existence, I turned to my mother for the skinny. “Of course there is no Santa Claus, Craig,” she replied. “The monster under your bed ate him.”
So, as you can imagine, I’ve since never been real big on Christmas tales. Sure, I have a weak spot for It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. I even enjoyed Scrooged (well, up until Bill Murray got all sappy in the end … what a downer). Other than that, I generally loathe those maudlin seasonal abominations. That being said, I found myself pleasantly surprised that Will Farrell’s breakout offering Elf is so damned … charming.
Raised by the elves of Santa’s North Pole workshop since wee toddlerhood, Buddy (Farrell) is devastated at age 30 to finally learn the ugly truth. He sets off on a trek to the Big Apple to make contact with his biological father. Unfortunately, Dad (James Caan), an executive at an Empire State Building-housed publishing company of children’s books, is also a member of long-standing of Santa’s “naughty list.” He’s also an absentee father to Buddy’s younger half-brother.
Of course, it’s then up to Buddy, full of child-like enthusiasm for all things yuletide, to show Pops the error of his ways. Which, of course, you know he will. That’s pretty much it as far as any plot goes. But then, these things have a certain template that they’re obligated to follow. That is also the only weakness of Elf, in that it plays like an episode of Saturday Night Live where every sketch features the same character.
The joy to be found here is Farrell. In the hands of anyone else (say, that knob Adam Sandler), the character of Buddy would have been excruciating. Here, however, Ferrell actually plays the naivety of the character without a trace of self-consciousness, as the rest of the cast plays it straight. A certain unreality ensues, allowing for seemingly incongruous touches to pass as normalcy (I especially enjoyed a nod to those old Rankin-Bass animated Christmas specials from the ‘60s).