Up at the Multiplex
John Brodeur, Laura Leon, Ann Morrow and Shawn Stone
of the peculiarities of the calendar means that the biggest
movie-opening period of the year, the holidays, coincides
with the two weeks of the year Metroland doesn’t run
any film reviews. Thus this week’s avalanche, in which we
offer up our takes on I’ve Loved You So Long, The
Tale of Despereaux, Doubt, Seven Pounds,
Marley & Me, The Spirit, The Reader,
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Valkyrie
and Four Christmases. We hope you have more fun reading
this criticism than some of the writers had watching the flicks.
OK, Sis’: (l-r) Zylberstein and Scott Thomas in I’ve
Loved You So Long.
Quality of Mercy
Loved You So Long
by Philippe Claudel
Philippe Claudel teases the audience with a long buildup to
the big revelation about I’ve Loved You So Long’s protagonist,
Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas). We first see her sitting
in an airport, waiting. She is met by Léa (Elsa Zylberstein),
her sister. It’s obvious they barely know each other. When
they get to Léa’s lovely home, the tension and dislocation
the audience in the dark is not a bad directorial strategy,
because it’s arguably more involving—and compelling—to puzzle
out the mystery of Juliette’s history. And it’s possible to
learn a lot about her, her sister, her sister’s family, and
Juliette’s quirky parole officer, by not knowing what clearly
awful past act everyone’s not talking about.
this is hard to pull off with a commercial movie. The film’s
own trailer and publicity give away the fact that Juliette’s
been in jail for 15 years. For murder. So most people who
plan to see this already know the “big reveal.”
of this is the rich attention to detail; every scene contains
a clue that leads somewhere and means something. Most of it
is the extraordinary performance by Scott Thomas as a woman
hardly alive. Watching her, very slowly, come out of this
emotionally dormant state is the epic drama of the film, not
the mystery of why she would commit a heinous act. Little
by little, Juliette becomes comfortable in her own skin, then,
one by one, with the people in her life.
rare that you get to see the contrast between the European
(here, French) and American views of crime and punishment
in such stark terms, although this also plays out in Stephen
Daldry’s The Reader. I almost burst out laughing at
a scene where a potential employer is angry to learn that
Juliette did 15 years in prison, because that means she murdered
someone. (We send people away for at least that long for selling
dope—forget premeditated murder.) In addition to a parole
officer, Juliette has a social worker to help her get a nice
job in a clean, bright modern office. Here, she’d be lucky
to get a job in a fast-food joint; we just don’t believe in
rehabilitation. This movie is of course not, ultimately, about
rehabilitation; it’s about redemption. But still.
is a terrifically economical director, in that he shows you
exactly what you need to see, and no more. Not a frame of
film is wasted. A good example is the big emotional climax,
when the sisters finally have it out over the details of the
murder; the scene begins in the middle of the yelling
and screaming. Name a Hollywood director who would dare to
cut the star’s “big scene” in half (let alone be allowed to).
Name a Hollywood star who would be strong enough to realize
this was the right way to do it.
Scott Thomas deserves an Oscar nomination just for that.
mouse: The Tale of Despereaux.
Tale of Despereaux
by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen
a make-believe Middle Ages village, The Tale of Despereaux
has a painterly look that is a wonder to behold. Created from
hand-painted cells, this 2D (with CGI) animated film envelops
the viewer in a storybook world that seems more like a moving
picture by Vermeer (one of the animators’ influences) than
anything produced by technology. The characters’ fur, clothes,
habitats, and pottery are astonishingly tactile, and the little
kingdoms within are convincingly detailed, right down to the
matchsticks that illuminate Mouseworld like streetlamps. For
within the village castle there is a mouse kingdom, and a
rat kingdom, and a royal family with a princess, and a chef
who specializes in soup, and a rat, Roscuro, who lands in
the soup. And thus a tragedy occurs. And a baby mouse is born
but he’s too puny to be expected to live, and all the characters
are bound into a perilous adventure that takes them to scariest
depths of the dungeon.
from the children’s novels by Kate DiCamillo, Despereaux’s
tale doesn’t quite live up to the film’s subtle artistry.
It’s too dank and medieval, especially the subplot concerning
an abused peasant girl, Miggery (voice by Tracey Ullman),
who dreams of becoming a princess, and the feudal system of
the mice, which tries and convicts the reckless Despereaux
(voice by Matthew Broderick). Despereaux has unusually large
eyes and ears, and his refusal to learn how to cower and scamper—he
prefers to daringly trip mousetraps for cheese—make him a
danger to mouse society. On a foray into the castle, Despereaux
reads, and vividly imagines, a book about chivalry and is
inspired to become a knight. He has a sewing needle for a
sword and a thimble for a helmet, and when he meets the beautiful
Princess Pea (perfectly voiced by Emma Watson), he falls in
love. Pea is in mourning, as is all the land—even the sky
has gone dark—and she asks Despereaux to tell her a quest
story. But first, of course, he must go on a quest. Little
does he know that one is awaiting him in the dread kingdom
of rats, who eat mice—except for when the evil rat king is
staging gladiator-type entertainments with a ferocious tabby
cat. Despereaux finds an unlikely rat ally in the vagabond
Roscura (voice by Dustin Hoffman), who secretly longs to be
is the first feature from Framestore Studios, the London studio
that produced such enchanting creatures as the flying hippogriff
for Harry Potter and the magnificent polar bears in
The Golden Compass. Despereaux is adorable, and his
antics are charming. But the script and much of the rodent
behavior is too formal for young-adult audiences, as is its
emphasis on soup, tribunals, and the virtues of forgiveness.
Considering the sophistication of its artistry, Framestore
could’ve skipped the kiddy stuff and gone all-out by adapting
The Faerie Queene.
don’t you believe me? (l-r) Hoffman and Smart in Doubt.
by John Patrick Shanley
nervous when an award-winning play comes to the big screen,
in part because of what we expect Hollywood to do to try to
jazz up what may be more cerebral fare, but also because so
much of what works on the boards comes across on film as too
talky, too interior. This is especially true when the people
steering the project are those involved in the original, and
therefore perhaps less pliable to any necessary edits. The
fact that John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the award-winning
play Doubt, is the film’s writer-director, concerned
me. Set in a 1964 Catholic school in Brooklyn, Doubt
concerns allegations of impropriety between Father Flynn (Phillip
Seymour Hoffman) and the school’s lone black student, and
the campaign of the dragon-like nun Sister Aloysius (Meryl
Streep) to oust the padre. On a larger level, it concerns
changing times, intolerance, the nature of love, and—no joke—the
church’s glass ceiling.
themes, undoubtedly, and the actors work mightily to hit them
out of the park, so to speak. Hoffman, so often the creepy
bad guy or charming weirdo, is genial, sort of like a more
portly Bing Crosby. His Father Flynn supports efforts to make
the church friendlier and more relevant to a vast Irish and
Italian American working-class populace still reeling from
the assassination of JFK. In this, he is thwarted at every
turn by Sister Aloysius, one of those old-school nuns still
haunting the nightmares of generations of Catholic school
graduates. When impressionable Sister James (Amy Adams) confides
to her that she thinks perhaps something has happened between
Flynn and the student, the die is cast, and the older nun
sets about destroying her nemesis, no matter that the student’s
mother (Viola Davis) doesn’t care about any innuendo as long
as her son is receiving love, acceptance and a good education.
Doubt, references are made to the winds sweeping dead
leaves and felling tree limbs in a way that all of the characters
agree is rather, well, ominous. Can it get any more obvious?
The cloistered dinners among the nuns, and rowdy ones between
priests and monsignors, give textured ambiance—along with
more than a little humor. The heavy black wimples, shawls
and boots, not to mention the chainlike rosary beads festooning
waistlines of the nuns, lend a suitably forbidding, anachronistic
aura. The conflict between Flynn and Aloysius is titanic,
but it doesn’t bear fruit in a moment in which all is made
clear. That’s because Doubt is much more interested
in weighing the relative merits of absolute conviction with
petrifies under the weight of its own seriousness. The dialogue
is the stuff of the stage, no matter if it was 40 years ago.
Streep alone seems able to breathe some real smelly life into
the movie, making her sister a bit of a crackpot visionary,
and tempering what could come across as sheer madness with
a steely resolve borne of having seen it all. She chews her
lips and the insides of her cheeks, making interesting calf-like
noises, and she screws up her face into the pinched look of
a long-suffering dowager. It’s the kind of performance that
mesmerizes, even as you realize that it’s taking you further
away from the heart of the plot. Then again, in this instance,
perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
is my heart: (l-r) Dawson and Smith in Seven Pounds.
by Gabriele Muccino
Smith is on a one-man quest to save the human race (or at
least work on their thetan levels). Just look at his last
two films: At the end of I Am Legend, he died so that
others could live; in Hancock, he was an immortal superhero.
The situation has moved way beyond God complex—dude thinks
he’s touched. It’s only a matter of time before he signs on
to play Jesus Christ.
brings us to Seven Pounds, in which Smith—er, Ben Thomas—makes
the ultimate sacrifice for the good of mankind . . . or something
like that. The film opens with Ben announcing his suicide
to a 911 operator. In flashback we see him antagonizing a
blind telemarketer, Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson). He angrily
shouts a series of names and throws some furniture. His brother
(Michael Ealy) calls, wanting to know if Ben took “something”
from his house; Ben responds by saying “I remember giving
you something.” He meets up with his best friend (Barry Pepper)
and they discuss some sort of mysterious plan. He feeds minnows
to his pet box jellyfish. (Wait, what?) Oh, the suspense!
How will it all add up?
that he’s an IRS agent out to “drastically change” circumstances
for a few lucky individuals that he deems to be “good” people—but
of course that’s not the whole story. Turns out Ben killed
seven people, including his fiancée, in an automobile crash
(because he was text-messaging while driving!), and he’s out
to atone for his sins by helping out seven “deserving” people
the old-fashioned way: by donating his internal organs. (Or
in the case of a domestic-abuse victim, his beach house.)
It doesn’t get much more Jesus-y than a man ritualistically
harvesting his own flesh and shedding his worldly possessions.
ridiculous (and holy-shit pretentious!) conceit is made bearable
only by its great lead performances: Smith is exceedingly
easy to watch, swinging from bible-salesman charmer to brooding
anger-management candidate in a flash. He’s come a long, long
way since Independence Day. And Rosario Dawson, as
heart- transplant candidate/love interest Emily Posa, lights
up the screen even when she’s half-dead in a hospital bed.
few good actors do not a good movie make. Seven Pounds
is so pleased with its concept and its message that it drives
right by some pretty big flaws. For instance, why is Ben helping
seven random people when he could be doing something
positive for the families of the people he killed? How is
it he gets turned away by a hospital desk clerk for showing
up after visiting hours in one scene, and in the next he just
waltzes into an intensive-care patient’s room unnoticed? How
does he manage to walk everywhere if this is supposed to be
Southern California? And why doesn’t the jellyfish get a screen
credit? It has the best role in the film.
film’s second half, the flashbacks become less mysterious
and less necessary, while the message of self-sacrificial
redemption grows louder and more obnoxious. Once you’ve figured
out the plot—which takes about 20 minutes, if even that—it’s
hard not to wish that the car crash had been just a little
he cute? Aniston and pup in Marley & Me.
Died. What’s for Dinner?
by David Frankel
of warning: Don’t take children to see Marley & Me
if they are expecting to be entertained by scenes of an irrepressible
pooch going through Disney-type antics. This is the mistake
I made in taking my 6-year-old to see David Frankel’s adaptation
of the John Grogan best seller of the same name. In that book,
the author recounted life with “the world’s worst dog,” who
along the way taught him and his family valuable lessons about
dealing with frustration and enjoying life to the hilt. The
movie, on the other hand, comes off like a Lifetime special
about the burdens of combining successful career and domestic
bliss, with the dog sort of an appendage—like a second car
or the third plasma TV in the rec room.
Wilson plays Grogan, and as usual, he’s extremely affable.
We want to like him, but it’s hard to buy him as an up-and-at-’em
journalist who cringes at the prospect of doing a weekly column
about whatever rocks his boat. As Jenny, his wife and (at
least at the beginning of the movie) a talented journalist,
Jennifer Aniston is lithe and shiny, the real boss of the
house but one who doesn’t lose her temper, even when Marley
once again eats the sofa or the answering machine. Except
for some light drama, John and Jenny are just what you always
thought married life would be. That is, not factoring in reality
and a total lack of personality on both their parts. Marley
& Me regales us with scenes in which the Grogans settle
in Florida, set up a cute house, purchase the puppy (the discount
price not serving as a major red flag to these astute reporters),
and have fertility problems—before being blessed with three
equally benign, milquetoasty tykes. Every once in a while,
the dog farts at dinner or eats somebody’s homework, but for
the most part, it’s all about the humans.
time the family has moved to a cushy farmhouse outside Philadelphia,
Marley is showing signs of age, and the inevitable descent
into infirmity and death begins. John tries to convince the
skeptical vet that Marley can defy the odds, because he’s
special. The kids wonder if Marley will meet them at the school
bus, and Jen blissfully serves beautiful meals and always
finds time to play football with the brood. Interestingly,
nobody ever steps in Marley’s prodigious poops—an oft-mined
sight gag—and even if they did, John and Jen would probably
just laugh. There was a lot of sniffling and nose blowing
in the theater as John said his final goodbye to the dog,
but here, too, it was so much more about the human and his
profound need for canine absolution when it really should
have been about the responsibilities and ties between master
and pet. One gets the sense that the Grogans will feature
dear departed Marley on that year’s Christmas card, before
focusing their cheerful energies on finding a suitable replacement
on which to base John’s columns and next book.
by Frank Miller
by “genre twister” Frank Miller (author of Sin City
and 300), and adapted by Miller from Will Eisner’s
1940s comic series, The Spirit starts out promisingly,
kind of like the eye-candy equivalent of fluorescent-colored
(Gabriel Macht) is a resurrected cop who mysteriously escapes
the clutches of Death, the ultimate femme fatale (Jaime King).
As the indestructible vigilante leaps from alleyways to rooftops,
he narrates his (nearly carnal) love for Central City, exaggerating
the hard-boiled clichés of second-rate detective novels. The
CGI shuffling of bold graphics, silent-movie-style black-and-white,
and film-noir portraiture produces a visual rush that lasts
about as long as it takes for the action to move from a warehouse
district to underwater, where another vamp, Sand Saref (Eva
Mendes), is struggling to wrest control of a sunken trunk
containing more than the baubles she’s after. But in less
than 10 minutes (out of its drag-ass 108), The Spirit
becomes a numbing exercise in sensationalist nonsense that
rips off pulp-crime leitmotifs and whips up putrid scenarios
just for the lurid look of it. The gist is this: Before he
became a cop and was murdered, the Spirit had a girlfriend,
who left Central City for a better life and big-time bling.
She returns as an international jewel thief whose husbands
have a habit of killing themselves (suicide is a frequently
used schlock tactic). The Spirit and Sand Saref both run afoul
of the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) and his nerdy henchperson
(Scarlett Johansson). Octopus is a mad scientist who uses
clones for minions, but long before the film indulges in the
insanity of elaborate hari-kari and Nazi torture tableaux,
its driveling dialogue and high-tech filmic dreck make it
the equivalent of stale gummy maggots.
time: (l-r) Winslet and Kross in The Reader.
by Stephen Daldry
when my husband and I weren’t yet married, we saw La Lectrice,
a French movie linking the cerebral pleasures of a good book
with those of a more carnal nature. One can imagine the inspiration
such a movie set off, especially in days before kids and mortgages.
Anyway, for those who think that Stephen Daldry’s The Reader,
which has its own fair share of reading and sex, might have
the same sort of titillation factor, be advised that this
is far more sleep-inducing than anything else.
Reader moves back and forth in time between late-1950s
West Germany, when teen Michael Berg (David Kross) begins
a torrid affair with much older tram operator Hanna Schmitz
(Kate Winslet); the mid-1960s, when Michael, a law student,
observes the war crimes trial of former SS guards, including
Hanna; and the mid-1990s, when middle-aged Michael (Ralph
Fiennes) tries to come to terms with a life tied to a misery
that began when Hanna left him.
moment follows closely on the heels of the pair’s first argument.
Imagine, if you will, a still-wet-behind-the-ears teen boy
complaining that his 30-something lover never asks how his
day went, and you get the sense of what passes for conflict
in this stilted, overly pensive film.
refers to the fact that, prior to their assignations, Hanna
insists that Michael read to her, something that clearly turns
her on and probably does much to help Michael get into law
school. Those scenes, in which Michael and a few other select
students listen to supposedly thought-provoking lectures about
German guilt and the nature of morality versus law, are pale
cousins to the less-weighty discussions acted out in The
Paper Chase. It isn’t clear what shocks Michael more,
the realization that his former lover is both a former SS
guard, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Jewish women,
or that she—the long-simmering memory of sexual abandon—is
illiterate. As is the case throughout the movie, Michael doesn’t
act (he has it in his power to alert the court of Hanna’s
illiteracy, a potentially key piece of evidence to be considered
in her sentencing), but merely looks stunned and out of breath.
Winslet, on the other hand, channels Lana Turner’s suffering
in Madame X (a compliment), and refrains from trying
to make us empathize with an unrepentant character. The script,
on the other hand, attempts to equate literacy with grand
motives and actions. But does anybody buy the idea that Hanna
teaching herself to read “The Lady With the Little Dog” makes
her more compelling or understandable?
problem with The Reader is, in fact, Michael’s dull
impassivity. If meant to represent a collective German culpability,
it nevertheless does nothing to make us care for him, his
fellow countrymen, or his dilemma. Instead, he comes across
as self-serving, self-involved. The one time he takes action—he
tapes himself reading all of his and Hanna’s hit parade of
literary classics, sending the tapes to her in prison—he follows
up with typical unwillingness to involve himself. There’s
one truly great scene, toward the end, when Michael visits
an author (Lena Olin), one of the very few survivors of Hanna’s
guardianship. It’s clear that he is looking for some sort
of answer, if not absolution, but she tells him that if he’s
looking for catharsis, he should go to the theater or enter
therapy. “Nothing came out of the camps,” she instructs, and
one regrets that the filmmakers did not come to that realization
before trying to make a movie that attempts to milk the suffering
of those who were sent there.
look marvelous: (l-r) Pitt and Blanchett in The Curious
Case of Benjamin Button.
Curious Case of Benjamin Button
by David Fincher
hurricane is about to hit New Orleans. An elderly woman, Daisy
(Cate Blanchett), hours from death in her hospital bed, asks
her daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond), to remove a diary from
a bag and read it aloud. First, we’re told a story about a
World War I-era clockmaker whose great work was a train-station
timepiece that ran in reverse, his way of wishing he could
turn back time for the war’s fallen soldiers—of which his
son was one.
but none of this has anything to do with The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button, a film that has little to say and
no idea how to say it. These would be forgivable contrivances
if Button had any emotional heft, or any real story
to tell. The unfortunate truth—unfortunate, because this film
has fooled a lot of people into thinking it’s good—is that
David Fincher’s three-hour adaptation of a whimsical F. Scott
Fitzgerald short story would have been wise to hew closer
to its source material. This could have been Memento
as black comedy; instead it’s a meandering bore.
meant as such, the clock could be the worst metaphor in the
history of film. See, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) was born
elderly and aged backwards! But I’ll give it a pass: It’s
quite possible that the hurricane is there to symbolize impermanence,
and the clock story is a tribute to the victims of said hurricane.
the narrative structure is so awkward and fat with meaningless,
heavy-handed metaphors (water, really?), that entire
discussion is moot: The film simply would have been better
without any of the Katrina/hospital sequences. It could have
offered dozens more revelations using a linear narrative—and
if a narrator truly were necessary, it should have been Ormond,
whose presence from the beginning of the film is a major tell.
At least if her disembodied voice were telling Button’s story
there would be some amount of suspense.
whose just-as-long Zodiac worked because it didn’t
really have an ending, is at a loss here. It’s a very attractive
film, but the director is stuck with an inexplicably sentimental
screenplay by Forrest Gump writer Eric Roth, and a
lead actor who just sits there and wears makeup for three-quarters
of the picture. It’s all talk and no action. For three fucking
the effects are very, very good. The makeup, the CGI, the
newfangled camera techniques, whatever it took to make Pitt
believable as an 80-year-old infant and a 25-year-old hunk—it’s
it all Button doesn’t really do anything. He stumbles
from situation to situation, offering anyone an explanation
for his naiveté; surrounding characters cotton to him for
no apparent reason besides the fact that he “seems different.”
The cast is fine, the women in particular: Taraji P. Henson,
terrific in Hustle and Flow, is a standout as Button’s
adoptive mother. But Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, both elegant
and excellent per usual, are forced to make a lot out of their
the film’s supposedly profound life lessons, they’re just
watered-down versions of more interesting sentiments. Roth
even rips himself off: “You never know what’s coming for you”
is a second-rate “Life is like a box of chocolates.” (Trust
that I’ve never before wished for a movie to be more
like Forrest Gump.) And Button takes nothing away from
the other characters besides a few platitudes. He’s no more
than driftwood in this dead sea of a picture.
is that you? Cruise in Valkyrie.
by Bryan Singer
may I present Tom Cruise . . .” That’s not quite how the introduction
between Adolf Hitler and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg is
spoken in Valkyrie, but it may as well be. Directed
by Brian Singer (The Usual Suspects), Valkyrie
is the code name of the plot to assassinate Hitler and replace
the Nazi hierarchy by coup d’etat. Stauffenberg, a career
officer and outspoken critic of Hitler, is played by Tom Cruise.
And despite an eye patch, brilliantine wavelets in his hair,
and a deadly serious demeanor, Cruise is not remotely believable
as Stauffenberg, and not just because one of the most recognizable
faces in the English-speaking world couldn’t disappear into
the role of a German combat soldier even if he were as talented
as Kenneth Branagh. Which, ahem, Cruise isn’t. Then again,
Branagh, who appears briefly as an instigating conspirator
(and who has played Nazis before), isn’t at his best here,
but pedestrian re-creation of doomed heroics, Valkyrie
is propelled by the sheer audacity of its true-life story.
Singer’s uninspired treatment robs the infamous July 20 plot
of much of its political intrigue and complexity, but by the
time an explosives-loaded briefcase is placed in Hitler’s
conference cabin, Stauffenberg’s determination has overridden
Cruise’s monotonic performance. Suspense builds on what one
character calls “the very momentum of history.”
that Cruise is surrounded by a cast of versatile Brits, and
Valkyrie is most involving as an ensemble piece (the
script is by Christopher McQuarrie of The Usual Suspects).
Scenes of Stauffenberg discussing strategy with the other
conspirators—Bill Nighy as the nervous, indecisive Gen. Olbricht,
Terrence Stamp as the ousted officer Ludwig Beck, and especially,
Tom Wilkinson as the opportunist Gen. Fromme. The colonel’s
personal life, however, is established as a series of shopworn
vignettes. At home with his wife (Carice van Houten), Wagner
plays on the victrola while his moppet daughter gives him
a Nazi salute; later, as he says goodbye to his wife, the
camera zooms in on the back of his neck, an awkward, distracting
shot that is repeated as a portent of doom. Much of the action
cinematography is surprisingly slack, considering Singer’s
resume with the X-Men franchise and the chilling Apt
Pupil, and the story’s inherent drama is most compelling
during the closing credits.
by Seth Gordon
holiday comedy is keyed to that modern nightmare, the multiple
Christmas celebrations made necessary by the increasingly
fragmented American family. Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad
(Vince Vaughn) are the perfect upscale modern couple, happy
to avoid anything to do with family. They don’t want to marry
and have kids, and they don’t want to spend the holiday with
any of their in-laws. Alas, fate conspires against them: Their
Christmas in Fiji is sidetracked by bad weather, and they
are forced to visit each of their parents’ homes for Christmas.
dad (Robert Duvall) is a redneck and his brothers (Jon Favreau
and Tim McGraw, both hilarious) are beefy cretins; his mom
(Sissy Spacek, totally underused) is a hippie. Kate’s mom
(Mary Steenburgen) is a Jesus-addled cougar; her dad (Jon
Voight) is a sympathetic eminence. You can guess where the
likely that more than the four credited writers worked on
Four Christmases, because the humor varies wildly in
tone. There are enough jokes to get through the film’s 90-plus
minutes, and the stars, Witherspoon and Vaughn, are game for
any antics and play well together. The film’s use of San Francisco
is good, too; Duvall’s redneck manor looks like one of the
places Eastwood found a corpse in Dirty Harry.
probably not fair to try to glean much meaning out of a Christmas
comedy that is as much about pratfalls and poop as it is about
the Baby Jesus and the importance of family, but since the
filmmakers take a halfhearted stab at it, so will this reviewer.
negative (i.e., classist, snobbish, prickish) side, it’s the
poor redneck dad played by Duvall who’s genuinely a Scrooge,
while wealthy, waspy old Jon Voight is the voice of wisdom.
And a lot of satiric targets are set up and then missed: How
do you hire Dwight Yoakam to play a megachurch-style preacher,
or Carol Kane to play a horny aunt, and not give them something
funny to do? On the plus side, there are moments not often
seen in popular movies, as when the leads explain to some
soon-to-be married couples why they think marriage is a sham
and a delusion. And Kristin Chenoweth, as Kate’s sister, is
interestingly, while Brad and Kate’s “four Christmases” may
have led to some self-awareness as a couple, the experience
didn’t suddenly make them want their fucked-up relatives in
their lives. We learn this comic nugget in the film’s very
funny coda, which also sets up a possible sequel—a temptation
one hopes all involved avoid.