(Guest blogger and honorary Film Warrior Jamie Hahn kicks off our holiday festivities with a look at this Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell. You can read more of this talented writer's work on her own blog HERE, and follow her on Twitter under @thisjamie.)
3 Silver Bells
If you told me in 2003 that my favorite Christmas movie would be about a guy who thinks he’s an elf, I’d have told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. If you informed me that said movie would be directed by John Favreau (of "Swingers" fame) and would feature Will Ferrell sporting yellow tights and a green, fur-lined tunic for most of the movie, I would have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge myself.
But when I actually sat down to watch "Elf," I was surprised. I expected a movie with plenty of comedy and not much heart. What I got was Buddy the Elf -- a big-hearted character that I couldn’t help but love.
Buddy’s story starts when he crawls into Santa’s bag of toys and is whisked away from his orphanage to Santa’s workshop. Buddy is raised to believe he’s an elf, but as he grows, it becomes clear that he doesn’t fit in. In spirit he’s very much an elf, but his size and inability to make toys leads to frustration and discontent. Realizing the time has come, Papa Elf (played perfectly by an ever dead-pan Bob Newhart) sets Buddy on his quest to find his real father in New York City.
At the heart of this movie is a wonderful performance from Will Ferrell. Despite a few moments of ADHD-like silliness, Ferrell’s portrayal of Buddy is nearly flawless. As Buddy the Elf, he exudes a childlike innocence and a dogged faith in the Spirit of Christmas that is as contagious as it is heart-warming.
I shudder to think what this movie would have been if John Favreau had cast Vince Vaughn, his usual go-to guy. Maybe a cross between Fred Claus and Dodgeball, with Buddy doing chest bumps and telling people to, “Get in here for a hug with the big guy.”
Without any context at all, a 6’3” man in tights and a pointy hat has the potential to be funny. Add the fact that Buddy has grown up as an elf at the North Pole, mix in Will Ferrell’s spot-on physical comedy, and you’ve got a recipe for some big laughs.
From spinning in revolving doors to getting hit by a couple of yellow taxis to slurping piles of spaghetti covered in maple syrup, Buddy delivers the laughs. And if those don't get you, there’s always the riotously funny scene when Buddy tells the department store “santa” that he sits on “a throne of lies.”
Besides the laughs, there are plenty of heart-warming moments that take you by surprise. Buddy and Jovie's (Zooey Deschanel) impromptu duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is one of those moments. What could have been played as a cheap laugh in a department store bathroom turns out to be a sweet and stolen moment. Buddy's childlike glee about Santa's impending visit leads him to spend an entire night decorating for his arrival.
He transforms the drab department store with its run-of-the-mill holiday decorations into a wonderland that even his grinch-like boss can't help but admire. And when Buddy’s brother, Michael, tells his father, “Buddy cares about everybody. All you care about is yourself,” it reminds us all of what’s most important in life and during the Holidays.
It’s these moments that elevate this movie from a typical slapstick comedy to a story that actually means something.
Elf is more than just a story about a guy who thinks he’s an elf. It’s about a person’s journey to find his place in the world. As Buddy struggles to keep his innate “elfness” in the face of an unwelcoming human world, we root for him because it’s our struggle too. In our own way, each of us is fighting to reconcile our true selves with the outside world.
So, even seven years after I saw this movie for the first time, I still find myself rooting for that goofy, over-sized guy in tights who, like all of us, just wants to know where he belongs.