The Good: Moments of humor, Moments of mood/message
The Bad: Very predictable, Virtually all of the performances are good casting over good acting, Very repetitive
The Basics: Elf is fun and has its moments, but ultimately, it is a bunch of great lines strung together through a thin, predictable plot.
It actually surprised me that I had not watched and reviewed Elf before tonight. But my wife and I had hot cocoa and homemade cookies and she was in the mood to watch her favorite Christmas movie, so I decided to watch Elf with her. She is a big fan of Will Ferrell's works, so it did not surprise me that Elf would be her favorite. We had just finished watching Frosty The Snowman, so I was pretty well done with kid's programming for the night.
Elf is pretty much a fish-out-of-water Christmas story and while the setup is interesting enough, it feels like writer David Berenbaum had a good idea and did not know quite what to do with it. The movie has some very fun lines, but most of them have a disconnected, almost generic humor quality to them that made me feel like they could have been a part of virtually any Will Ferrell movie. And Elf feels very much like a Will Ferrell film. When it does not feel like a Will Ferrell movie, Elf seems very much like an advertisement for Zooey Deschanel's music career. When the movie is not focused on Ferrell, it is tightly focused on Deschanel, so the film has the sensation of jerking between two channels of commercials more than being a truly engaging or cohesive story in and of itself. In other words, the plot is so simple, thin and repetitive that it falls to the performers to wow us and they stay so squarely within their known talents that Elf fails to shine beyond that.
Buddy lives and works in the North pole at Santa's Workshop for thirty years oblivious to the fact that he is a human living among the Elves. When one elf lets it slip that Buddy is human, Buddy is shocked and goes to New York City in search of his biological father. After an extended "fish out of water" montage sequence, Buddy goes to meet his father with the implicit quest to get his father, publishing tycoon Walter Hobbs, off the naughty list.
Tossed out of his father's offices, Buddy goes to a department store where he begins working in the seasonal department. He decorates the store and meets the jaded Jovie. When he gets arrested for assaulting the false Santa that comes to the department store, he is bailed out by Walter. When Walter takes Buddy back to his home and family, Walter finds his son does not truly fit. After condemning Buddy to the publishing company's mailroom, Buddy gets into more trouble until Santa's sleigh crashes and Buddy must come to the rescue to save Christmas.
In the final act, Elf falls apart into an unpleasant mix of schmaltzy Christmas movie and utterly nonsensical comedy. When the Central Park Police Horses enter the movie, the film becomes a mess. So, while the movie starts out engaging with a number of truly great, hilarious lines delivered by Will Ferrell with an enthusiasm that only Ferrell could reasonably sell to the viewer, in the last act, Elf becomes a surprisingly typical Jon Favreau action film and it lacks the charm the movie began with. But, it does offer an opportunity for Zooey Deschanel to sing and show off her pipes, which seems like her big part in the movie. Jovie is pretty much a generic love interest for Buddy outside her singing and her presence feels very much like an oscillation between utterly generic and "hey! Look at me! Listen! I can SING!"
That said, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel do play to their strengths. Ferrell has a great sense of absurdist humor and he has very funny deliveries in Elf. He sells absurdist non-sequitors like "So, good news; I saw a dog today!" exceptionally well with his boyish enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many of the lines like that could have been put into virtually any Will Ferrell movie or SNL sketch and sold the same way. Similarly, Zooey Deschanel - who is disturbingly blonde for Elf - performs musically much the way she did in Yes Man (reviewed here!).
In a similar fashion, James Caan and Bob Newhart offer nothing truly new in their performances. Instead, Caan plays Walter as a pretty generic workaholic and Newhart delivers with is trademark mumbled deliveries and the movie seems more like a triumph of good casting over decent acting. At the end of it, Elf is more of an average Christmas film than anything enduring or extraordinary.
For other Christmas movies, please check out my reviews of:
Disney's A Christmas Carol
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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