Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Movie #173: Elf

Elf is a comedy starring Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart. It's a Will Ferrell comedy that I enjoy, and that's saying something.

Ferrell plays Buddy, an orphan who crawls into Santa's (Asner) bag as he's out delivering presents. Not knowing what to do with him, the elves take him in, and Papa Elf (Newhart) raises him as a son. Fast forward to thirty years later, and Buddy is 6'3'' and can't roll like an elf (he "only" makes 85 Etch-a-Sketches in a day). He discovers his true lineage - human, born to a now-dead mother and a father (Caan) who never even knew he existed.

Buddy walks to New York from the North Pole and, still wearing his elf duds, tries to find his dad and discover himself. But he's an elf; he's insufferably happy and excited about everything, he's got no sense of sarcasm and can't imagine being unkind, and he's bubbling over with Christmas spirit. In the end, it's his enthusiasm that saves Christmas, gets the girl (Deschanel) and endears him to his father and his new family.

Gotta say, Ferrell sells this. Buddy could come off like an idiot or a creeper (especially when he sits outside the shower where Girlfriend is showering and quietly duets with her - doesn't help that the song is the date-rapey "Baby It's Cold Outside"), but he comes across as childlike and enthused. It's hard not to like him, and as much as I find Ferrell annoying in a lot of roles, he works here. James Caan is similarly tough in his role as the workaholic dad, and Ed Asner is the perfect Santa - he's got just enough of an edge to make him likable, but he's a big softie at heart.

I'm not crazy about Deschanel. I think she's a boring actress at the best of times, and she doesn't have a hell of a lot to do here other than sing (which she does well, credit where it's due). But the role is really written so that Ferrell's Buddy has a love interest, and it's appropriate that the Girlfriend is cynical and kind of jaded. I also think it's a nice turn of pace to have the Manic Pixie Dream Girl be a dude, who's actually an elf (OK, he's not really, but he might as well be).

Some logistical questions: Apparently there's some residual magic around Buddy, because he's almost impervious to physical harm (he walked to New York from the North Pole, which is more than 4000 miles, if you're interested) and he should be dead from malnutrition by now (since all elves seem to eat is sugar). And I wouldn't even mention it, except that much of the humor comes from Buddy not really being an elf, so maybe that should have gotten a mention? Or maybe I'm overthinking; I do that. Anyway, it's a sweet movie that has some good laughs, and it doesn't descend into fart humor, which is always a plus. And my daughter liked it, so there's that.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Flight of the Navigator