Christmas Review: Elf
A SLAM ADAMS review!
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, and James Caan
Plot: An orphan raised by elves in Santa’s workshop returns to the normal world to meet his biological father, who also happens to be on the naughty list.
The oldest, and possibly only, Christmas trope is that an entire cast of people have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday, and one wide-eyed wonderer needs to break them out of their funk. This is the basic premise of Elf. Now, most of the time adhering to classic tropes can seem unoriginal, but Elf has an overwhelming charm that you cannot help but smile and laugh at.
Jon Favreau has a deft hand at directing up-beat whimsical stories. This is the first one that is naturally whimsical. His other efforts, Made and Iron Man, brought whimsy to otherwise dark and tragic characters. Here, the whimsy can sometimes be overwhelming, but the Christmas setting certainly gives it a sense of legitimacy and sincerity.
Will Ferrell’s gangly clueless moron routine is a hit-or-miss style that in my opinion misses more often than hit. Again though, Ferrell is right at home at this lyrical plot as a lost soul not accustomed to the cynical outside world. A big part of what makes it work is that the character has a child-like innocence rather than the usual misogynist jerks he plays.
Ferrell is surrounded by an impeccable supporting cast. A number of character actors including Favreau regular Faizon Love do their thing the best they know how. Mary Steenburger and the young actor who plays Ferrell’s half-brother are a pleasure to see on screen. Ed Asner makes for an amazing Santa Claus. His gruff voice invokes the blue collar nature of Santa’s job, while his world weariness gives him an aged but timeless appeal. Bob Newhart as the head elf is brilliant. His trademark deadpan humor is well positioned to not sound as cynical as it usually can.
The two stand out supporters are James Caan and Zooey Deschanel. Caan is not well-known for his comedy. On the contrary, he is really well known for his overly gritty stone-faced criminals. As a cynical business man suffering from a major case of lethargy, he is not completely out of place with his stone-faced criminal routine, yet there is an added comedy timing that Caan should be recognized for. This is also probably the start of the Zooey Deschanel love affair that the public has. She oozes sex appeal as the pixie-hipster-dream girl of Ferrell’s character. Her cynical attitude may seem a little forced and melodramatic at times, but that is because it is. She certainly doesn’t seem proud of her attitude and falls quickly for Ferrell’s charm.
The only bad thing I can really say about Elf is the very disjointed third act, or more like the end of the second. it involves Santa crash landing in New York City on Christmas Eve with Buddy the Elf coming to the rescue. Part of it is certainly a accumulation of everything the movie had done especially about Buddy trying to convince everybody to have Christmas spirit. It is quite a tonal shift for it to revert to a thrilling chase, and the villainous horsemen who seem to exit as quickly as they enter seem like a wasted opportunity.
Elf is probably the most recent and unfortunately last modern Christmas classic that we will see for some time. It works because instead of just using the tropes as a marketing ploy for a cash grab, they are proud to try and count themselves among Christmas classics. It plays to the strengths of the actors involved and creates an overall memorable comedy, Christmas classic or otherwise.
NINE out of TEN