A Merry Dysfunctional Christmas
family Christmas movie is a genre that defies all logic and reason. The notion
of paying money to watch families fight, scream and unload all of their
psychological and sexual baggage after arriving at grandma's house must fulfill
a deep need in the audiences that attend these films because they are fast
becoming a regular Hollywood Holiday tradition.
The plots and
themes of the films within this genre are so similar, I find it difficult to
keep them separated in my mind. As Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" plays on my
radio while authoring this article, I'm having a hard time keeping last year's
This Christmas (which recently released to DVD in November 2008) apart
from what I observed a few weeks ago in
Four Christmases. An extended version of Gaye's song plays during the
closing credits of
This Christmas, with the obvious intent of providing an obligatory happy
ending along with extending the film's time to barely feature length.
But prior to the
party scene that closes the movie, we have been privy to a non-stop assortment
of arguments between siblings and their mother, which have revealed everything
from clandestine criminal activity to intimate sexual details that we really
didn't need to know.
Four Christmases, on the other hand, would be a gift to all mankind if
it were shorter. A couple, who is convinced marriage will kill their
three year relationship, has spent the last three years lying to family members
about what they are doing at Christmas. But this year, bad weather grounds them
at the airport, and they must admit they aren't really saving starving children
in the Third World, but instead have been heading to the beach each year. Now
they must pay their "punishment" and visit their four respective parents
separately because (of course) everyone is divorced. The outcome is an extra
helping of sexual innuendo, crass humor and a very offensive nativity
The idea of running
away without the family is nothing new.
Christmas With the Kranks tried the same premise with, surprisingly,
somewhat more warmhearted results, but not without the usual family
One thing I must
give credit to is these films show no favoritism to any race, class, religion or
sexual orientation. Blacks, whites, gays, Christians, Jews, rich and poor all
look like desperate pathetic fools.
The Family Stone got together over Christmas dinner in 2005, the pudding
began to steam when one son, who is gay and hearing impaired, began a
heated debate with his brother's fiancée about influences of genetics and
environment on sexual preferences. The aforementioned
This Christmas has an African-American family mixing it up, with the
irony that the only couple in the movie that don't sleep together is also
the only pair who is married. Puerto Ricans are the focus in the most recently
Nothing Like the Holidays, which is -- relatively speaking -- a slightly
better holiday experience. While all the typical arguing is present, at least it
offers some logical and realistic reconciliation after the many family
conflicts. And then there's the poor lonely sap played by Ben Affleck in the
Surviving Christmas from 2004 who had to pay $250,000 to hire a
dysfunctional family he could spend the holidays with. He should have just gone
to the theater...
on the theme is to get neighbors involved.
Deck the Halls from 2006 has a new family move into the neighborhood,
with a father who is determined to put enough lights on his house that it may be
seen from space. Amidst the slapstick stupidity are the typical sexual comments
that seem to invade all these scripts.
Unaccompanied Minors demonstrates why some couples never choose to have
children after a snowstorm grounds a group of kids in an airport overnight. Adam
Eight Crazy Nights puts a young Jewish man with a chronic drunken temper
in the midst of a plot with a man who wants to be a do-gooder in his community
-- the outcome is toilet humor and musical sexual innuendo (got to give
them credit for trying something new...).
I'm not trying to
be the cinematic Grinch by dragging you through all these bad holiday memories,
and neither am I opposed to seeing movies that deal with serious family topics.
But isn't there still a market for a Christmas or holiday themed movie that
deals with serious issues and doesn't leave you feeling like you want to sneak
off alone to the North Pole before the relatives arrive?
Some of our
favorite family Christmas traditions do revolve around movies, and I find our
annual viewing of
It's A Wonderful Life and
The Muppet Christmas Carol leave me feeling better about the reason for
the season. Others your family may enjoy are the classics Miracle on 34th
Street (both the
1994 versions are very good), the more "serious" retelling of
A Christmas Carol,
Holiday Inn, and
White Christmas. There are a couple of newer standouts as well -- Queen
Latifah starring in the thoughtful
Last Holiday and the reverent presentation of
The Nativity Story.
Looking at this
week's box office numbers, my negative view of Four Christmases is
certainly not shared by everyone, as this comedy is pushing 100 million just
weeks after its release. However, I'm hopeful we may see a few more holiday
films coming through the systems in the years to come that won't leave people
(like me) who yearn for a positive year-end message out in the cold.
Merry Christmas and
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
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