Christmas is upon us, and with all the crazy shopping escalates every year (stores are now open on Thanksgiving!), it’s too easy to forget to slow down, catch your breath, and enjoy a little Christmas spirit. 10 years ago, a new Christmas movie called Elf was released to critical and box office acclaim. Up until its release, the project looked like a big gamble. Its director was actor Jon Favreau, who had previously directed 2001’s Made (and was very likely still known for his appearances in 1993’s Rudy and 1996’s Swingers). The star of the film was Will Ferrell, a former member of Saturday Night Live whose biggest movie so far had been the R-rated Old School (which came out earlier in the year). I missed out on Elf when it first came out, but luckily I was able to catch a 10th anniversary midnight screening recently at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City.
Elf centers on Buddy the “Elf” (Ferrell), a human who was raised by elves at the North Pole after he accidentally snuck into Santa’s bag as a baby at an orphanage one Christmas Eve. Buddy grows up having a difficult time fitting in. Close to Christmas time one year, Buddy finally learns the truth from Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) and is told of his real father (James Caan). Buddy is eager to meet him, and journeys to New York City to meet him after being informed by Santa (Edward Asner) that his father is on the naughty list. Comic mishaps ensue, and Buddy encounters a variety of characters along the way, including Jovi (Zooey Deschanel), his step-mother Emily (Mary Steenburgen), his half-brother Michael (Daniel Tay), the Gimbel’s manager (Faizon Love), and Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage).
Ferrell plays Buddy with such an enthusiastic child-like innocence that very few actors could’ve pulled off. He comes across as warm and genuine rather than creepy, and not surprisingly Buddy is mistakenly accused of being mentally unstable a few times. All of the gags involving Buddy are hilarious (my favorite being the simple “World’s Best Coffee” gag). This was one of Deschanel’s early roles, and she shines as a Gimbel’s employee who has a beautiful singing voice but is afraid of singing in front of people. Caan is terrific as Buddy’s father Walter, a publishing exec who’s lost sight on Christmas and what’s really important (early in the film, Walter informs a nun that his company is taking back books from her Catholic school due to faulty payments). All of the performances were fun, including the small supporting ones (Amy Sedaris as Walter’s secretary Deb, Andy Richter and Kyle Gass as in-house children’s book writers, and Artie Lange as the Gimbel’s Santa).
One of my favorite sequences is when Buddy and a mailroom employee (who’s also an ex-con on a work release program) get drunk and encourage everyone in the mailroom to sing and dance. Another is the fight between Buddy and Miles Finch, who Buddy keeps referring to as one of Santa’s elves (which continuously infuriates Finch). Elf is kind-hearted and fun. Like Santa’s sleigh in the film, it runs on Christmas spirit and has plenty more to offer to everyone (kids and adults). In an increasingly fast-paced world, it’s refreshing to see a film like this that encourages people to slow down and enjoy what we have. 10 years after its release, Elf has earned its status as a modern holiday classic.