Reviewed on 2007 December 8
I normally don’t like a lot of physical comedy, so Will Ferrell movies don’t do it for me, but he’s perfect as Buddy, a big, goofy human raised as an elf and outgrowing his environment at Santa’s Workshop.
Buddy realizes that something is different about him as he grows taller than the other elves, and he talks with his Papa Elf (Bob Newhart, playing the world’s most button-down elf) about it. Papa explains that he was raised at the North Pole, but his real parents were human, and he was adopted as a baby. Buddy goes in search of his roots and makes the journey to New York. He doesn’t seem to fit in our world any better — his father is Walter (James Caan), a tough literary agent that doesn’t have any time or patience for a goofy, overgrown child he gave up years ago. His wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) is more receptive to Buddy’s charm, and encourages her husband to try to get along with him. Besides, Buddy is so sweet to their son Michael (Daniel Tay) — he’s like a big brother to him, albeit a very clueless, dorky big brother. Won’t he try to help Buddy adapt?
Director Jon Favreau also wrote Swingers, directed Made and accomplished… this. I hope he does more Christmas movies because he knows how to navigate them — most of them are too cloying, and this isn’t, even with the cliché double-header of “heartwarming” and “fish-out-of-water”. You can almost predict some of the trouble Buddy is going to get into, but when it gives you something unexpected it really pays off, and the scenes are so vivid and funny you don’t feel cheated even if you did know what was coming. The ending is almost a little too sweet, and then it goes and redeems itself with more silliness.
Three chocolate morsels. The mail room scene always makes me laugh, no matter what kind of day I’m having. And if Will ever tires of movies, I’ll hire him to decorate our house.