//console.log("Anon"); _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Session Type', 'Anon', 'Anon', undefined, true]); _gaq.push(['_setCustomVar', 1, 'Session Type', 'Anon', 2]);
Posted on 7/19/12 11:37 PM
Christmas in LA Is Like Summer Here Anyway
I'd forgotten this was a Christmas movie, to be perfectly honest. Yes, I know. The poster is Steve Martin in a Santa hat, not to mention Anthony LaPaglia in the full Santa suit--minus the hat, presumably because Steve Martin stole it. However, when I made the choice to watch this movie, all I remembered was that it was a comedy about crazy people and about what I could handle given that we have hit high summer. (We actually even had thunderstorms tonight, albeit briefly.) I run into this problem every year, and there's really nothing I can do about it until and unless I live somewhere air conditioned. At any rate, I don't think this one will ever make anyone's list of holiday classics, which is probably why I didn't remember the Christmas angle to things. Still, I'd rather watch it than sit through The Polar Express again.
Steve Martin is Philip, who runs Lifesavers, a suicide hotline. Unfortunately, Stanley Tannenbaum (Garry Shandling), their landlord, has evicted everyone from the building with the intent of turning it into luxury condos, and they have to be out by the New Year. Philip hasn't told anyone--nor has he told them that his girlfriend, Susan (Joely Fisher), dumped him for a psychiatrist. Catherine (Rita Wilson) is in love with him. Mrs. Munchnik (Madeline Kahn) is trying to get home to her dead husband's family's for the holiday, but everything goes wrong. Catherine befriended Gracie (Juliette Lewis), who is supposedly having a baby with Felix (LaPaglia), and they show up and bicker. The lonely Chris (Liev Schreiber in his first theatrical film) gets the address and comes over, too. Downstairs neighbour Louie (Adam Sandler) seems to have nothing better to do (well, Sandler's Jewish) and comes up, too. Looming through it all is the fear of the Seaside Strangler.
Oh, and there's random Jon Stewart, too. He and Parker Posey rollerblade through a few times. Now, it is a fact that Jon Stewart, while a talented comedian, is not the world's greatest actor. However, he doesn't much need to act in this movie. It is also true that he only has about a dozen movie credits, and no acting he could have done could have saved at least a couple of those movies. I hated Doogal with a passion I can't even begin to describe. I haven't bothered with The Faculty, because why would you? But I liked Death to Smoochy and even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I didn't think he was that good in them, but he wasn't terrible, and even people who hate the movies never seem to do so because of Jon Stewart's performance. He's just bad enough so that he never had the chance to be truly terrible. I haven't read all the negative ratings from this movie, but I can promise you that none of them cite him as one of the problems.
Okay, but I can pick out what people would cite. For one thing, the music is a combination of old holiday classics and Casio-inspired score. The holiday classics are boring to me. Mostly, they're the secular ones, and I've just never much liked secular carols. And again, the custom-written score is simply terrible. The writing also does that thing where it gets over the top just as it was getting good, as if to tease you with possibilities. This is possibly my least favourite writing, worse even than tediously bad. I don't know if this is true of the French movie on which it's based, but large amounts of the plot are completely unbelievable; the whole thing about the Seaside Strangler is unnecessary at best. I suppose it's intended to provide a wacky denouement, and certainly it's a denouement, but it was not the ending I was looking for. For one thing, I'm not sure Christmas movies should advocate vigilantism!
Still, the good moments, to me, outweighed the bad, if only just barely. Liev Schreiber makes a better drag queen than you might expect. Adam Sandler was still funny at the time, and the subplot between Louie and Chris may be the best part of the movie--not, I admit, that it's saying much. Steve Martin hasn't completely sold out yet, and there are some scenes where he really shines. (He's not the dancer Christopher Walken is, but he's not bad, either.) It's a suicide hotline movie where everyone is more wacky than mentally ill, which is a little vexing, but it's also hard to make a good comedy out of serious mental illness. I'm tempted to try, but if it were written by someone mentally healthy, I don't think it would turn out at all well. So instead, we get wacky people with whimsical problems--and a drag queen with a truly awful family. But the drag queen isn't the butt of all the jokes; that's saved for a theoretically normal person. So that's something, right?