I saw the new holiday comedy Elf over the weekend and was quite amused. It worked on just about every level and had quite a few laugh out loud moments, which is saying a lot for me. I like my comedy, but I'm usually amused inwardedly, you know? But there were more than a few moments when I just burst out laughing.
Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf is used to perfection. He carries the movie but manages to not get old. He threatens at a couple points, but the director held firm and rode through the rough waters. This is what Ferrell does best, without a doubt, and his given the room to do what he does, but not more than is needed. This is best accomplished by an outstanding supporting cast that is more than capable of holding their own with the sceen stealing Ferrell. James Cann is very suited to the role of Buddy's Naughty List residing father. He's bad, but not so bad that his redemntion seems inappropriate. Zooey Deschanel is a revelation as Buddy's object of affection. Its a too small part, but Zooey's work makes it hold its own. She was really so good that I was surprised I hadn't seen her in much. Especially when I realized what I recognized her from were from two great films, Almost Famous and The Good Girl, I was stunned that I haven't seen more from her. She was really spot on. I can't even quite explain the effect she created, but it was that kind of awkward, counter-culture cute that seems to go over well in Hollywood and I didn't really see what seperated Zooey from, say, Maggie Gyllenhaal who seems a lot more recognizable. There's also some other actresses doing this sort of thing that I can't remember right now. ANYWAY, the supporting cast also featured some great turns from Faizon Love, Mary Steenburgen, Amy Sedaris, and especially Bob Newhart as Buddy's adoptive father and Ed freakin' Asner as Santa Claus. How cool is that?
ANYWAY, the story is really held together by excellent writing. A lot of time is taken up in setting up the story, which means they do kind of rush the resolution. This bothered me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw this as a good trade-off. Setting up the North Pole so well allowed them to go where they did with Buddy's character. It had to be understood that he really wasn't an idiot, just very very earnest. It wasn't just him, after all. We saw it. It really gave them a lot of freedom to do a lot of funny stuff. It also made the quick resolution make some sense, as we could understand what an honest and genuine person Buddy was, we could understand how he could change these people so quickly.
But, that's reading a lot more than is necessary into what aspires to nothing more than being a fun Christmas movie. Good for adults, good for kids, and quite possibly a holiday classic in the making in the mold of Scrooged.
(I'm always amazed at how an agnostic like myself can get into Christmas every year, but I guess that's just a testament to what a secular holiday it has become.)