There are literally hundreds of Christmas films lingering on the shelves of video stores around the world. Most of them are junk – forgettable slapstick fare involving goofy people doing goofy things in the name of goofiness – yet every now and again one jumps out and has enough allure to end up a perennial holiday favorite (check out Collider’s list of Top 10 Christmas flicks if you haven’t already).
Such is the case with Jon Favreau’s 2003 Elf, an otherwise forgettable film if not for Will Ferrell’s sugar-high, candy coated, even inspired performance. The former SNL-star does his damndest to ensure an enjoyable comedy experience, yet obtrudes the film in a way that makes it impossible to enjoy unless you find his overtly rambunctious humor amusing. Personally, I think the man is a god – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) remains one of the great comedies – capable of squeezing hilarity from even the most rudimentary of circumstances, and so my opinion is a biased one. Still, I can see how Ferrell’s brand of humor may turn off some; I understand why people get annoyed when he strips naked (far too often) and screams obscenities with high pitched fury. But you have to admit, the man takes chances – sometimes his method works, sometimes it doesn’t. Continued after the jump:
That being said, Elf contains one of the actor’s better (and fully clothed) performances. The man gives the film his all – he sings, dances; battles raccoons, Santa Claus, little people; and damn near shoulders the entire production. What should have been a mediocre Christmas flick surges to great comedic heights primarily because the funny-man willingly does whatever it takes to get a laugh. Credit director Favreau for having the good sense to keep the cameras fixed on his star; he wisely tosses David Berenbaum’s (Zoom) humdrum, by-the-numbers script in favor of numerous sight gags that typically draw the film’s biggest laughs (the taxi bit always kills me).
Ferrell plays Buddy, a North Pole elf who goes to New York (tasked by Ed Asner’s Santa Claus no less) to save his dead-beat, book publishing father (a very bored James Caan) from suffering a fate worse than death, or the naughty list. Problem is, Buddy grew up as an elf and so his personality at all times emanates a good ole yuletide spirit – a sugar addiction only adds to his exuberance – that sharply contrasts with the Big Apple’s downbeat citizens. As the plot “thickens,” Buddy finds his newfound world increasingly difficult to endure, his father’s Grinch-like behavior even more so. But when Santa crash lands in Central Park on Christmas Eve it’s up to Buddy to supply enough holiday cheer to power up the big guy’s sleigh and save the day.
If Elf at times feels like a collection of SNL skits, that’s because Ferrell and co. aren’t interested in plot, structure or characterization. What begins as a silly kid-flick quickly morphs into a gut-busting, fish-out-of-water comedy, one that’s lighthearted enough for youngsters, but crammed with enough wit to satisfy adults.
Tellingly, along with Ferrell’s antics, what makes Elf such a delight is co-star Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer). The indie-actress drifts through Elf with grace and spunk; her enigmatic bright blue eyes dancing over a face forever fixed with an expression of ambiguous pleasure. Her scenes with Ferrell are – dare I say it? – cute, warm-hearted and ultimately appealing. Just wait til you get a load of their “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” duet. It’s enough to make you wish the film was more focused on them.
Yet, Ferrell and Deschanel’s charm aren’t quite enough to save Elf from a muddled third act, during which people magically find redemption, and gather (quite coincidentally) in front of Central Park to sing Christmas carols. A clunky finale results, one that induces more groans than smiles.
Nitpicks aside, Elf provides ample entertainment, especially during the holidays. Much like its protagonist, Favreau’s film is at turns erratic, hilarious, slightly obnoxious, but ultimately loveable. If you have yet to experience Elf, I urge you to do so this holiday season. You’ll be surprised at the results.
For this review I checked out the Elf: Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which comes packaged in a tin box containing the Blu-ray release of the film along with some gift adhesives, a soundtrack sample, a photo magnet and even a yellow elf stocking. Predictably, the Blu-ray format fits Favreau’s film well, though the image doesn’t appear any better than its 2008 counterpart. Greg Gardiner’s colorful cinematography radiates off the screen, particularly in the early scenes set in the North Pole; darker shots are slightly fuzzy, with blurred edges and a slightly oversaturated sheen. The soundtrack featuring a mixture of holiday tunes and John Debney’s well-suited score, on the other hand, registers cleanly through all channels, with little, if any, noise interference, at least not as far as I could tell.
Most of the features found in this package are lifted from the 2008 Special Edition release – including commentaries by Ferrell and Favreau, a nice collection of behind-the-scenes material, and a few deleted/alternate scenes. I was pissed when I discovered my digital copy redemption code failed to work (it expired in October 2009), but such is life.
Again, if you haven’t seen Elf, go buy it right now. It’s fun for the whole family – that is unless you don’t like Will Ferrell.