Nothing like a little comedy to lighten up the holidays
2014 has revealed several “trends” at the big screen multiplex. First, the romantic comedy which generally has a couple unite, break up, then reunite for a happy ending, now has trouble finding an audience. Second, lots of CGI bells and whistles does not guarantee success. Ironically, a washed up superhero called “Birdman” could have laugh meters howling as a holiday “sleeper.”
Still, as the calendar drifts toward the big three holidays of the year, what iconic funny flicks will entertain in a year that same sex couples have gained the right to say, “I do.” The quest for political correctness may have altered the U.S.A.’s tolerance level for “change,” but “tradition” reigns at Jingle Bell time, even if some favorites will have an unreal, campy flair.
Take “A Christmas Story,” which is a family-friendly guarantee about a kid dreaming of a Red Ryder B.B. gun under the tree. Shot in Cleveland, it reveals one fallen convention – taking the family to see Santa at the multi-story downtown department store. Any urban adventurer knows many cities have their abandoned structures. “A Christmas Story” was produced in a before-the-mall era when nearly every large city had a couple of downtown department stores (and even ornate downtown theaters).
What’s your favorite scene? Artist Whitney Escew told me it’s seeing the kid get his tongue frozen to the flag pole.
Christmas also brings a seasonal mix: Comedy plus fantasy = Warm Heart.
One scenario often remade has Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) playing a department store Santa, except he has a rep for “wishes coming true,” which leads to a psychiatric exam and the classic scene where the post office delivers him the dead letters to “Claus”. This conveniently provides the judge an opportunity for a popular decision — if the post office believes him to be Santa, then who is the court to disagree.
Huntington city councilman Rick Simmons has donned a Santa suit more than once. He told me about his “Miracle at the Mall” event playing Santa at a mall kiosk when a ten-year-old girl plopped on his lap.
“She just sat there,” he said. “She did not say anything. Her mom told my wife that the girl was deaf and Santa would not be able to talk to her.” In this instance, a small Christmas “miracle” took place. Simmons wife pointed at her ear. “I know (my knowing) sign language made that little girl’s Christmas – and mine, too – the best we ever had,” he said.
Simmons’ favorite funny Christmas film, though, is “Scrooged,” the version starring Bill Murray, as a cynical and narcissistic TV executive.
“Although it’s a comedy, the holiday message works (and) Murray plays a could-really-happen type character.”
Photographer Misty Pauley chose “Elf,” where Will Ferrell portrays an orphan raised by North Pole elves who goes to New York City in search of his real father (James Caan), who’s on Santa’s “naughty” list for being a jerk.
Other modern era comedies typically have a dysfunction family edge i.e “Home Alone,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and the travel nightmare, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Turning to a more serious form of family celebration, “The Family Stone” has uptight business woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) visiting her boyfriend’s (Dermot Mulroney) free spirited family (a lot like “You Can’t Take It With You” maybe?) and “Four Christmases” has a couple (Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn) on an impossible mission – retain their sanity after checking in on all four divorced parents.
For the singles set, try these happy endings with laughs: “Love Actually,” “The Holiday,” “Remember the Night” and “While You Were Sleeping”.
Got a hankering for one that’s off beat? Check out stockings full of “Gremlins” for shivers and chuckles.
No listing of Christmas-related comedy faves is complete without some of the classics.
Mostly black and white flicks, they turn up on cable/satellite after midnight on Christmas Eve. Whether it’s “The Bishop’s Wife” (the pastor’s assistant is an actual angel), “A House on Fifth Avenue” (squatters take over an empty mansion and when the owner arrives he plays along), or “The Shop Around the Corner” (pre-internet soul mates awkwardly “meet” in a small shop) or “Lemon Drop Kid” (Bob Hope plays a Salvation Army swindler), and “Christmas in Connecticut” (Barbara Stanwyck caught in a “lie” about having a baby) – they each champion the giving of random acts of hugs and love, while emphasizing how relationships of all kinds mess up (comically) from the utterance of a big white lie.
Which brings me full circle to what’s funny this season, competing with Mockingjays and Hobbits? “Horrible Bosses II” and “Dumb and Dumber To” line up with another “Night at the Museum.” which wraps adventure, fantasy and laughs, especially with the late Robin Williams.