TBT – Elf (2003)

So it’s Christmas Eve and I’m full of festive cheer. I’m also fucking exhausted. I made the reckless decision to watch The Force Awakens last night despite having to start work at 6am. I’ve only been able to keep going thanks to my continued delight at how wonderful the whole thing turned out to be. Obviously I have a few gripes but The Force Awakens was the best present I could have hoped for. I admit it was a bit fucking stupid seeing it so close to Christmas. It would really have taken some of the joy out of the festive period if I was brooding with hatred for JJ Abrams. It would have taken something very special to lift me from that foul a mood. Thankfully, at this time of year there is always a feel good film on somewhere. I got home to the end of Finding Nemo and instantly forgot how much I hate all of our customers when Dory encouraged me to “just keep swimming”.

Although, it’s not exactly a Christmas film so in keeping with the time of year I’d probably turn to my Top 11 festive treats. Number 3 on the list is the always enjoyable Elf. Is there a single person out there who doesn’t love Will Ferrell as the fun-loving Buddy? If there is, then they’re the biggest fucking Grinch to ever walk the planet. Will Ferrell is the kind of person who could bring humour and charm to any piece of shit and he manages to elevate an otherwise forgettable film to great heights. 
Elf is the story of Buddy; a human child who snuck away in Santa’s sleigh and was raised by elves. Growing up believing he is one of Santa’s helpers, Buddy’s world is shattered when he discovers the truth. This starts him off on a journey to New York to reconnect with his father. With a lifetime spent in the magical North Pole making friends with narwhals, Buddy doesn’t exactly fit into life in the big city. His father, children’s book publisher Walter Hobbs, believes his long-lost son is crazy and shuns him. Still, Buddy manages to find a place in the real world and his childlike personality starts to make a difference to the people he meets.
When it comes down to it, Elf has a really shitty plot. It’s nothing very exciting and the emotional stakes are pretty low. The problem with a lot of holiday films is that they don’t fully believe the message they’re trying to sell to the audience. The Christmas film is such a by-the-books genre that you can just include a few tropes and claim to be pushing the Christmas cheer. The narrative isn’t supposed to be about development but just a means to the big, festive finale. 
There is nothing shocking about the road the characters in Elf travel. You know what’s going to happen and you know how it’s going to get there. What keeps you going is the main character. Ferrell throws himself into the role with such gusto that it’s impossible not to get swept up with Buddy’s fun-loving, naive charm. 
The rest of the cast is pretty stellar but they have fuck all to do. James Caan’s Walter is reduced to over-the-top Grinch who threatens to ruin Christmas for his loving family. Zooey Deschanel gets incredibly short shrift as Buddy’s love interest, Jovie. Deschanel is as adorable as we’ve come to expect but she is reduced to giving doe eyes and singing whenever the need arises. 
When you look too deeply, Elf is nothing more than a few silly sketches tied together by one of the laziest plots imaginable. That’s not to say I don’t love it. There are some very funny moments and a lot of reasons to enjoy it. There’s a reason I put it at Number 3 on my list. It might not be the most sincere Christmas film but Elf is certainly one of the most charming. It’ll give you more than enough warm and fuzzies on a cold winter’s night. 

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