Saturday, April 27, 2013

Movie Review: Elf

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Laughs in the beginning, enjoyable climax
Cons: Repetitive middle
The Bottom Line:
Christmas classic?  No
Some parts are enjoyable
But the middle drags

Elf Isn't the Christmas Classic It Wants to Be

I generally avoid Will Ferrell films because the previews for them annoy me.  So I didn't even consider seeing Elf when it came out a few years back.  But I've heard so many people praise the film since that I decided to take advantage of a recent showing on TV and watch it.  I'm not sorry I watched it, but it also didn't change my mind about Will Ferrell.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) has been raised at the North Pole.  Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) is very proud of his adopted son.  There's just one problem, Buddy is a human, not an elf.  In addition to his enormous size, he doesn't have the talents for toy making that all his friends do.

When Buddy learns the truth, he sets out for New York to meet Walter (James Caan), his real father.  Walter works for a children's book publisher, but his ideas aren't selling.  He's also on Santa's (Edward Asner) naughty list.  And Walter isn't thrilled to discover he has an adult son, especially one who insists on dressing like an elf all the time.  Will he ever accept Buddy?  Will Buddy ever fit in New York?

The movie actually started out very strongly, and I was really enjoying it.  The first scenes narrated by Bob Newhart were funny, and there were some nice laughs in the North Pole scenes.

But then Buddy leaves for New York, and things go down hill.  It's not that the movie is bad, but it devolves to what I term embarrassment humor.  We're supposed to be laughing at Buddy making a fool out of himself.  Yes, a little of that can be funny, but I grow tired of it quickly and start cringing instead of laughing.  There were some sweet scenes here and a few good laughs, but they were fewer and farther between.

I was beginning to get very annoyed when the climax suddenly pops up.  And I was surprised to find out how much I cared for the characters.  I found myself choking up at one scene, then rooting for everyone to live happily ever after.

It would be impossible to discuss the movie without mentioning that the film is predictable.  That's never a deal breaker with me, but I was usually one step ahead of the characters and waiting for the movie to catch up.

While leads Will Ferrell and James Caan did find, it was the other actors who impressed me the most.  Bob Newhart is always funny.  I wish he'd been in more of the movie.  Edward Asner did a much better job as Santa then I expected.  I was able to get beyond the mental picture of Lou Grant (his character from the Mary Tyler Moore Show) and accept that this was Santa.  Mary Steenburgen brings a much needed warmth to her role as Walter's wife.  And I can't leave out Zooey Deschanel as potential love interest Jovie.  Zooey is always wonderful, and this movie is no exception.

The film is rated PG for the occasional off color word and some bathroom humor.  Both are kept to a minimum.  I'd have no problem with a kid watching this film, although that is always the parent's call.

Elf really wants to be a new Christmas classic.  While it is certainly popular right now, it won't become part of my December watching rituals.

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