Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Christmas With the Kranks: A Review
CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS
Welcome to the Annual Rick's Texan Reviews Christmas Special. For seven years I review a Christmas-themed movie to celebrate the festive Yuletide season. For this year, it's Christmas With the Kranks.
I confess to never having read a John Grisham novel. I do have vague memories of when Third Rock From the Sun spoofed the repetitiveness of his oeuvre. Each of the Solomons mentioned how they were reading "a great John Grisham novel" about "a young Southern lawyer who fights an evil corporate giant". The joke was that while each book was a different title, they all had the same plot.
I figure that Grisham must have already locked down his fanbase by the time he wrote Skipping Christmas, on which Christmas With the Kranks was based on. Otherwise I imagine that if he had tried selling Skipping Christmas as his debut, it would have been dismissed for the SH-IT that it is. As I have not read Skipping Christmas, I cannot vouch for how faithful Christmas With the Kranks is to the original.
St. Nicholas help us if the film is like the book.
Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) sadly see their 23-year-old daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) fly off to Peru for a year to join the Peace Corps the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Luther is shocked when he makes his calculations of the family Christmas spending: $6,120. He decides that since Blair is no longer at home, he and Nora can 'skip Christmas' and take a Caribbean cruise costing on $3,000. Nora, who generally enjoys decorating and hosting a lavish Christmas Eve party, is reluctant but soon agrees.
Bad idea, for as soon as their friends, neighbors and Luther's employees learn of this plan, they all essentially turn into Christmas fascists. Their neighbors, particularly Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Ackroyd) literally stage protests in front of the Kranks' home, demanding they put up lights and especially a Frosty the Snowman figure on their roof. "Nora Krank! We're here for Frosty!" he yells in front of their house with what looks like a mob about to lynch the Grinches.
The various shops and organizations they normally order from during the holidays all but berate them for not 'doing Christmas', and Nora's friends are appalled they won't be having their party.
Their 'protest' even makes the local newspaper!
Nora is buckling under the pressure: no surprise given that Frohmeyer at one point chases her down in her car. Luther gets the cold shoulder from employees, who make sarcastic remarks about getting 'cheap gifts' because he won't put in any. Luther, for his part, stubbornly holds to his Caribbean holiday.
Then they get an unexpected call from Blair. She's in Miami, with her new boyfriend/fiancee Enrique (Rene Lavan) (she states that Enrique has proposed but for the rest of the film she and everyone else calls him her 'boyfriend'). Blair is flying to Chicago to see her parents and show our Peruvian hunk 'a traditional Christmas'.
At this point, both before and after watching Christmas With the Kranks, I asked 'why could they not tell their 23-year-old daughter that they were not going to celebrate Christmas and decided to go on their own holiday'? I also asked, 'how does someone who joined the Peace Corps manage to wrangle leaving within a month of her assignment to fly up for Christmas?'
Oh, me and pesky logic.
Nora, pushing Luther, scrambles to put the house in Christmas order in less than two days. After a series of chaotic events that lead to Luther hanging precariously off the roof of his house, the whole neighborhood rushes to help the Kranks get their house to be a winter wonderland.
Because in this universe, 23-year-old children have to be placated.
Apart from that, Christmas With the Kranks is not so much misguided (though it is that) as it is nasty and unpleasant, trying to be jolly and even uplifting when it really is a cautionary tale of suburban fascism.
God help any non-Christian families who live on the appropriately-named Hemlock Street. Can you imagine if the Rothsteins or Singhs lived here? Would their neighbors subject them to harassment and intimidation to get them to decorate their house?
Moreover, I cannot get over how the premise of Christmas With the Kranks is built around the idea that a 23-year-old bimbo has to be coddled to an almost infantile level. First, it's really outlandish that a Peace Corps volunteer would arrive at her assignment in late November and then get permission to leave within a month. Second, it's even more insulting that her parents simply could not tell her that they had made other plans, were leaving the country and could not change them at the last minute just to accommodate her childlike whims.
Did they never speak to Blair in that month to tell her, 'hey, we've decided since you're not here there's no reason for us to decorate the house and decided to take a holiday instead?'
If this is the kind of plotting John Grisham is proud of, how did he ever get to be the literary powerhouse he is (and I say this as one who liked The Firm and The Client).
Blair mentioned that she had met Enrique before while at Brown (a school she clearly does not have the intellectual prowess to have attended), so Luther and Nora should have already had experience living without her, albeit not at Christmas. Still, the entire Krank family is so categorically stupid one wonders why Enrique would want to join it (unless it is for the sex).
Christmas With the Kranks really pushes a false idea that the film is about 'community' and caring. Nora says as much when she thanks everyone for pulling together to 'save Christmas'. This is extremely psychotic given that less than 24 hours prior, this same 'loving community' was all but terrorizing her into faux-festive submission.
Director Joe Roth really went out of his way to make everyone give horrible performances. At the top of that list is Curtis, who was not acting so much as she was embarrassing herself. Curtis was trying much too hard to try and make Nora funny but ended up going for dummy. In her exaggerated hysteria and whimpering over every little thing Nora was so unpleasant I would advised Luther to divorce her immediately.
Allen, to his credit, at least made Luther somewhat rational. He at least looked like he was taking the premise and situations seriously as the besieged man. The script made one bad mistake in having be totally absolute about their 'Christmas boycott'. He wouldn't give in to Nora's request to give $600 to charity and their church before leaving, which I consider a reasonable request. Eventually he gave in, but why he was made to be so hostile was a misstep. Nora was a wimp and Luther a bully, two things they should not have been.
Ackroyd came across as a literal Christmas terrorist, and just about everyone in the neighborhood came across as insane. Having the cops escort Blair and Enrique is bad enough (as if them spelling it as "N. Reeky" didn't already do that). Having said cops take a burglar they caught with the to the Kranks Christmas bash is straight-up insulting to everyone.
John Debney's score made things worse. It was one of those 'look at how cutesy and whimsical everything is' types of scores, where the music tries to push the humor where there is none.
If one thinks on it, Christmas With the Kranks is really a celebration of conformity, an ode to the power of bullying. Essentially, Chris Columbus' screenplay (and Grisham's book) is saying, 'how dare Luther think of himself and his wife and put them first over group-think? Better to buy a tree they won't use, get personalized Christmas cards and throw a party they don't want to rather than make plans by themselves for themselves'.
That is not a true Christmas message, and Christmas With the Kranks is not a true Christmas movie.
2012: Arthur Christmas
2013: A Christmas Carol (1951)
2015: A Madea Christmas
2016: Batman Returns
2017 (Christmas Eve): Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
2017 (Christmas Day): The Man Who Invented Christmas