Sunday, December 03, 2006

Deck the Halls

DECK THE HALLS (John Whitesell, 2006)

Christmas is a time for generosity and goodwill...or it's supposed to be. In DECK THE HALLS the season becomes a war of holiday cheer between neighbors.

Optometrist Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) is the Christmas guy in his quaint Massachusetts town. His rootless childhood has Steve determined to make Christmas special, even if it means overcompensating with a long checklist of annual family traditions. Everyone wears the same hideous sweater for the Christmas card photo. Steve has a special area at a nursery where he grows perfect trees for several Christmases to come. He leads a merry band of carollers in his neighborhood.

Yep, Christmas is Steve's time to shine until car salesman Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) moves in across the street. Buddy longs for one thing to make him feel special. He finds his calling when his daughters show him a tool similar to Google Earth that allows homes to be seen from space. Buddy's new house is obscured from view, so he makes it his mission to decorate it with Christmas lights and geegaws that can be visible from the heavens.

Buddy's gaudy display of lights, a live Nativity scene, and thumping music rubs Steve the wrong way for a couple reasons. The late night noise and illumination make it nearly impossible to sleep. More critically, Buddy's decorating captures the town's imagination, and he begins to overtake Steve as the Christmas guy. Steve won't stand for it and plots to sabotage Buddy's work.

As with many modern Christmas movies, DECK THE HALLS is a comedy of misplaced priorities. It's built around the notion that our quest to succeed--to have the Norman Rockwell family or get people to take notice of us--often results in losing perspective and getting further away from our goals. Steve is so adamant about creating Christmas traditions that they don't possess any joy for him or his family. Buddy gains media exposure and the admiration of the town's population, but he risks losing his wife and daughters.

Of course, these overachieving suburban dads are supposed to be funny as they engage in a game of one-upmanship and revenge. A few laughs are sprinkled in this equivalent of a lame sitcom holiday episode, but the broad comedy and treacly ending are unlikely to put anyone in the Christmas spirit.

Certainly the holidays can be a stressful time, but as with CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, DECK THE HALLS presents Christmas as a time of nasty competitiveness. It would be nice if movie execs realized that for most people the day, whether a religious or secular celebration, isn't about outdoing everyone or Christmas card perfection. If they could put a good Christmas movie or two in our theaters' stockings each year, we'd appreciate it.

Grade: D+


  1. Anonymous11:14 PM

    But why should they make any effort to put out a GOOD Christmas movie? Christmas is as pre-sold as any Hollywood property- millions of people every year will watch anything Christmas-y, provided they can take the kids. I'm just glad that I'm able to avoid new Christmas movies, which is more than I can say about seasonal music, from the glut of new albums of old standards. For a record label, a Christmas album by a popular artist is close to a sure thing, since not only do you get that artist's fans, but you also get people looking for something new to listen to while frosting cookies or decorating the tree. As for me, I'm already sick of Christmas music, and it's only the third of December.

  2. Well, of course they don't have a reason to put in the extra effort and make something, you know, good, but don't blame a guy for asking. Audiences are complicit when they hold the studios to such low standards.

    All that aside, I feel like I have more of the Christmas spirit this year.

    I really like Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas, a new collection of the EPs he recorded over five years. Don't know if that might heal your ailing ears, but give it a listen if you like his other albums.