I think Iím in the majority, in that I remember a great deal about Jingle All The Way, but never actually saw it.
Yeah. Itís pretty much what you remember/expect. Arnold Schwarzenegger†and Sinbad are two dads competing in pursuit of a Christmas toy as though it is the antidote to a poison coursing through the veins of their children.
Iím still probably never going to see it, so walk me through the rest of the story.
I recommend checking it out. It’s entertaining and interesting.
In the beginning we see Arnold, overwhelmed at work. His wife is Rita Wilson. They have one kid. The kid is really into this show called Turbo Man, which is a plug in for Power Rangers. Although they try, Hollywood is incapable of depicting production values as low as those of the real Power Rangers show. Arnold works late, gets stuck in traffic and misses the kidís karate performance. He tries to cheer him up with some Karate based humor but that doesn’t work so he promises to buy him a Turbo Man doll for Christmas to make up for it. Shortly thereafter, he learns that his wife told him to buy the doll weeks ago, but he forgot all about it and the doll is now in short supply.
Thatís all there is to it?
Yes and no.
Always with you.
I know, I know. So shall we get on with it? Fiiiine. [Sighs aggressively.] What is it this time? The film is a metaphor for race relations in Zimbabwe? A†Trojan†horse for†a right-wing version of Zionism?
Well, letís start with the cast. You expect a sprawling film like this to have many recognizable faces. Phil Hartman is outstanding as the smarmy neighbor, a stay at home dad who hovers around the neighborhood. Since he doesn’t work, he has the time and energy to do everything wives and kids wish a father could do, like including a live reindeer in his Christmas decorations. †He goes from nest to nest, hoping to fertilize unattended eggs neglected by workaholic fathers. The rest of the cast is loaded too, especially in the smaller parts. Yeardley Smith is a toy shopper whoís really hoping to pick up some dong. The Big Show is the enforcer for a ring of Santa con-men. Danny Woodburn (Kramerís dwarf pal, Mickey Abbott on Seinfeld) and Verne Troyer play Santaís helpers in the gang. Chris Parnell is a dickish sales clerk. The other day, you pointed to an image of Ryan Gosling and asked me, ďwhoís that guy?Ē But you think this movie has a ďloadedĒ cast because voice actors from Archer and The Simpsons, a pro wrestler and a pair of marginally famous midgets are in it?
In some ways, you and I are very different people. Anyway, it takes me a while to learn the new famous people. Also in Jingle All The Way: Curtis Armstrong, †Laraine Newman, James Belushi, James Conrad, Martin Moll,†and†Richard Moll…
Bull, from Night Court? Ha! This sounds like some sort of workfare program for washed up…
Tread lightly, sir.
I should note that Jake Lloyd, AKA the young Anakin Skywalker, plays the son. He’s perfectly fine by the standards of child actors, so perhaps his wooden performance in The Phantom Menace, at a later age, was not really his fault.
Well, I can’t think of any other†explanation.†
Perhaps George Lucas drew out a bland, robotic performance from an actor.
The hell you say!
Well, maybe it could happen in just this one case. Especially with a kid, who would be acquiescent and far less capable of asserting his own interpretation of the character or standing up for his performance.
OK, so a lot of people in the movie were kind of famous either before or after it was made and you get the little thrill of recognizing them.
Which is part of the charm of this kind of sprawling comedy/adventure. Like Ferris Bueller, Cannonball Run, History of The World Part I, The Blues Brothers… The action is spread across so many settings and there are so many characters, you get a bunch of actors like that, who are capable of helping to carry a scene, though perhaps not a whole movie. Itís like in the playoffs, when a baseball team uses six pitchers in one game because theyíre out of aces, but have a bunch of guys who can give the hitters a challenging look for several at bats. Itís a good strategy for this film because, while Arnold and Sinbad are both pretty good, neither one is a comedy ace.
So it sounds like itís funny.
Yes. Itís a bit hit and miss, but the freedom to hit and miss a lot is another great thing about the sprawling comedy. The single funniest moment to me is when Sinbad tells Arnold about how his dad disappointed him by not getting a coveted Christmas gift. He theorizes that this is why he grew up to be a ďloserĒ with ďno future,Ē as he takes a swig of booze. So Arnold imagines his kid doing the same thing in the future: On the other hand, while I was entertained by Arnoldís battle with the network of criminal Santas, running through a many favorite action cliches, †you could file it as a miss because itís far more outlandish and unrealistic than anything else that happens in that part of the film and itís probably not funny enough to justify such a departure. If you donít like it, you can just disregard it. On to the next scene, with all new characters in a new setting.
Yeah. While Blues Brothers is grossly overrated, I enjoy that kind of 70s-90s comedy epic. Why donít they make them anymore?
Because society is going down the toilet.
Well what do you expect? The White House is occupied by a double secret Muslim, Commu…
Whoa! These reviews are for my crackpot political theories. Which, interestingly, the film anticipates and attempts to diffuse in advance. How so?
Well, Sinbadís character is portrayed as a loser and a buffoon… †
I was going to say something about that. Isnít he a mailman? Thatís not a bad job. Heís like in his early 40s, so I guess he clears like $50,000 with great benefits. Retirement should be in site…
See, thatís where the film gets unsavory and we might be touching on some of the reasons it didn’t connect with people and bombed, in spite of being an entertaining movie with big stars. Mailman is a good comedy job, because they live in a reality we can easily imagine as ridiculous. They battle †aggressive pets, thereís some kind of weird quasi-military dimension to it, etc. OK, fair enough. But on the whole, itís an above average job and Sinbad going on and on about what a worthless piece of shit he is because he doesnít make $250,000 a year is part of a fairly nasty streak of classicism, or at least obliviousness on the part of the filmmakers to the fact that the talking, walking things who do jobs for them are real people who don’t necessarily despise themselves.
Letís stick with that for a minute. Are you hanging that all on one scene?
No. If I havenít already made it clear, Arnold and his family are upper-middle class. Of course, everything is depicted from their perspectives. Since most of the people who made the movie were at least that well off, that perspective overwhelms the film at times.
Like seeing being a mailman as one step above being homeless?
Yeah. And as Arnold moves from store to store in pursuit of the toy, he encounters dozens of working people, from cops to stock boys. At best they are portrayed as things that exist for him to use. At worst, they are portrayed as malicious, which I think reveals a kind of selfishness.
Like, itís Christmas Eve and all the people working in a toy store are just fucking gleeful about their opportunity to deny customers out of stock toys. In other words, the clerks don’t even think about their own lives. They think about themselves only in terms of their interaction with customers.
A lot of people in general, but especially the well off, see the world that way. They honestly believe it is so thoroughly about them, that the people who grind shitty jobs serving them are primarily concerned with how their existence affects that particular rich asshole. Clerks and waiters sit around all day just waiting for YOU to come in, so that they can be a character in YOUR life and if they donít do what YOU want, it must be that they have chosen to be a villainous character. OK. A couple of things here. One: movies and TV are largely a means to escapism. And one way we escape is by empathizing with people who are rich, good looking, etc. Thatís why people in third world countries, like Europe, so love Dallas and 90210.
Secondly, what do you want the film to do? Tell you the life story of every sales clerk? Come on, you know perfectly well that you usually see the people who serve you in a store or restaurant as means to getting shit you want to buy.
I agree enough with your first point. I donít mind Arnold being well off. But you can have a well to do character, without the film adapting the mentality of a self-absorbed asshole. Like, I said, Sinbad doesnít have to deeply loathe himself for being a postman and therefore having ďno future.Ē He could just say he used to dream of bigger things. Maybe he could even say he wanted to be a stand up comedian. That would be kind of funny, rather than kind of ugly. It would also be more realistic and therefore make a better character, as I don’t think most mailmen walk around talking about how they are human garbage because of their jobs.
I donít want to know the life story of every sales clerk, in real life or a movie. However, I consider them enough that I might think, ďwow, it sucks these guys donít get the holidays off.Ē Instead of having scenes where they gleefully rub their hands together at the opportunity to not give Arnold what HE wants, maybe you could throw in a line where they gripe about spending Christmas eve dealing with toy riots for $7.00 an hour. But the voice of the film is that of a person who never thinks about such things and stiffs waiters because they asked for a steak medium rare plus and got what they consider to be medium.
OK, so you say they use Sindbad to attempt to diffuse your (other) crackpot political beliefs?
Well, obviously the story is driven by consumerism gone mad. But, as that is the bread and butter of the people who made the film, I guess they felt depicting consumerism gone mad got a little bit awkward. Or maybe they felt that, if the film was perceived as a vehicle for an anti-consumerist message, it would rub some people the wrong way and there would be some kind of backlash. So they have Sinbad who, again, is a buffoon, give this speech, which Iíll just quote in full.
Myron: You know itís all a ploy, donít you?
Arnold: A ploy?
Myron: Man, where have you been? Donít you watch TV? We are being set up by rich and powerful toy cartels.
Arnold: Oh, come on. Myron: We got these big fat cats sit there using working class just like me and you. They spend billions of dollars on TV advertisements and then they sit there and use subliminal messages to suck your childrenís minds out. And I know what Iím talking about because I went to junior college for a semester and I studied psychology so Iím right in there. I know whatís going on. And then, they sit there and make a kid feel like garbage because you, the father, whoís working 24/7, delivering mail so you can make an alimony payment, to a woman that slept with everybody at the post office but me. And then when you get the toy, it breaks and you canít fix it because itís cheap plastic! Know what Iíd like to do? Iíd like to walk up in that office, grab one of those guys and just choke him, choke him until his eyes pop out!
So, the point of the speech is to undermine or mitigate any kind of anti-consumerist interpretation of the film?
There are a few things going on there, some of which are pretty confusing. One element is that Myron reveals a lot of personal failings and that he portrays himself in a demeaning way. Like, how he thinks heís an expert in psychology because he went to junior college for a semester, which he seems kind of proud of. Of course, nobody brags about going to JC for a semester. That line is there to make him look foolish. One element of the speech is that it tells us that Myron’s limitations in life, and his powerlessness are his own fault. Weíre meant to empathize with Arnold, who scoffs at Myronís views, from a perch of wealth and success. People like Myron are just deluded whiners who get what they deserve owing to their lack of merit. Notice how Myron tries to lump Arnold in with himself, as “working class,” which we’re supposed to scoff at along with him. That’s a way for losers to try to drag successful people like us down to their level. Here’s the speech in slow motion. Perhaps playing it as you read on will satiate your ADD enough for you to make it to the end. It sounds like they’re drunk!
This is all meant to discredit the things Myron is saying, though, apart from his embellishments most, of them are objectively true. Advertising does seek to make kids (and adults) feel inadequate, then suggest they can become adequate by purchasing some cheap plastic crap. Not only that, it does so in this movie. When the kid tells Arnold about the toy he wants, by repeating a commercial verbatim, he concludes by saying, and I quote: “Johnny’s gonna get one and so is everybody else I know. Whoever doesnít is gonna be a real loser.”
So… Sinbadís crazy speech is basically a perfect description of what is happening in the movie. I donít get it. Why would they present that message, then try to make it look ridiculous?
It might be a misapplication of a Simpsons-style po-mo dialectic that results in nothing. But I think itís more likely that they had an idea for a movie about a father going on crazy misadventures in pursuit of a popular Christmas toy and then realized that there was kind of a commie theme emerging and tried to nullify it. I think they wanted to keep the message that family is more important than stuff (though, if you donít have enough stuff, your family is composed of lesser people), but it wants to put the brakes on there, and deny any critique of consumerism or the idea that corporations are powerful entities that might have a negative influence on our lives at least some of the time. This is all too contrived. They should have just told the story and let the viewer take from it whatever made sense to them.
OK. So the film offended your delicate, liberal sensibilities.
Remarkably, it managed to offend both my liberal and conservative sensibilities. And Ďoffend,í is a bit strong. I had fun watching the movie. I wasnít offended, I was entertained. Now weíre having fun dissecting it. ďWe?Ē You think that anyone is still reading at this point? Anyway, what conservative sensibilities did it offend?
Well, to start with, for a film so loaded with messages and meaning, it didnít really have any kind of a positive moral message. At the very end, Arnoldís kid does perform the only act of decency in the entire film. He feels bad for Sinbad, a father who seems like a good guy and is being sent to jail. So he gives Sinbad his prized toy to pass on to his son, so that a less fortunate boy might have it. He then tells Arnold that he is happy enough to have his father be active in his life and doesn’t really need the toy. Thatís really it, though. Arnold says heís been neglecting his family and will try to do better, but thereís no real evidence that any adult in the film has learned anything, and it seems they will all be selfish pricks for the rest of their lives. Also, no mention of Christianity. At all. Nor charity or any of that stuff.
Since when did those things offend you? You want Christian morality tales now?
No, no. As I said, itís not so much that I was offended, it’s just striking that this is the content of the film. †I donít think itís meant to be an overtly cynical film, like Bad Santa or something. And you can look at a very secular Christmas film like, A Christmas Story, and thereís still a lot of warmth and compassion in it, even without heavy moral lessons. My point is that, even though it does spend 9 seconds trying to say parents should pay attention to their kids, this film seems to inadvertently reveal a kind of soullessness.
For example, Arnold is completely indifferent to Sinbad going to jail, even though heís a good guy who, in the context of the movie, didnít really do anything wrong. In fact, all of his actions closely parallel Arnoldís own. Arnold breaks several laws and it could easily be him going to jail, particularly if he were a black postman. And weíre not supposed to care either. Itís kind of like, ďwell, that guyís life is destroyed. But I guess prison canít be much worse than being a postman. Letís go buy the most expensive Christmas dinenr we can find, eat until we puke and then throw away the remaining $500 worth of food…. as a family.Ē But thereís no satire or cynicism behind it, itís just supposed to seem like normal behavior. This is why Ebert concluded his review by saying, ďI have to raise my hand in reluctant dissent and ask, please, sir, may we have some more goodwill among men? Even TurboMen?Ē
OK, I think I see what you mean. Any more conservativish beefs?
Yeah. This seems to pop up in a lot of movies, but Arnold and men like his character seem unfairly crucified for the crime of breaking their asses to provide nice lives for their families.
I thought you were anti-materialism and blah blah blah.
To a degree. I donít mean to say I didnít love getting awesome toys as a kid. I was very lucky in that respect. If you want to put in a bunch of hours so you can drive an expensive car, thatís up to you, as far as Iím concerned. But in this movie, when Arnold meets Yeardley Smith, he pays her three times the list price for a toy. I believe he forks over $100 for an action figure. Then when he realizes itís not the toy he wants, he throws it straight in the garbage. Thatís a bit extreme.
So, on the one hand, it celebrates extreme consumerism, but on the other, it roasts Arnold for working too hard to give his family both stuff they need and stuff they want.
Exactly. After he misses his kidís karate tournament, he has this exchange with the brat where he says ďI saw you get blue belt,Ē and the kid is like, ďbut you missed yellow.Ē And he says, ďI saw you get purple,Ē and the kid is like, ďbut you missed green.Ē So, basically weíre talking about a guy who puts in 60 hour weeks to provide a nice house and a loaded college fund, doesnít cheat on his wife or drink †or anything and gets to 50% of his kids events.
What a monster!
I think the film is, above all, celebration of entitlement. Arnoldís one virtue is that he works hard for what he has, and thatís the one thing the movie shits on him for. Just like it shits on postmen, clerks and cops for working. But consumerism, greed, selfishness: all A OK. Charity, compassion or even basic consideration for other people: †not even on the table.
By the way, why didnít Arnoldís wife just buy the toy? Sheís a housewife, right?
Well, she has a lot to do. Mainly, constantly henpecking Arnold for not doing 28 hours worth of work/chores/family activities per day. The only time she lifts a finger is to bake some cookies, which she promptly gives up on, allowing Phil Hartman to finish them for her. And, since she is the single most entitled character in the film, and the one who does the least amount of work, she is presented (along with the kid) as the most virtuous. Though, you can’t really blame the kid, because instead of saying, “daddy has to work so we can live in this nice house and I can stay home with you and he comes to as many Karate tournaments as he can,” his mom is more like, “well… maybe this time your dad will bother to show up to your Karate tournament.”
If you think about it, women are the real oppressors.
See, you menís rights guys make it so if you ever defend men at all, you risk being lumped in with the ďWhite American Christian males are the most oppressed people on earthĒ set. Iím not saying that. In most family situations in the US, women get the short end. But this isnít a movie about a struggling single mother. Itís about a guy who works 14 hour days and has a wife who still expects him to do the Christmas shopping and to handle an equal amount of parenting while she gets her nails done and takes flower arranging classes. In any case, thereís a fairly clear hierarchy in the film. The most virtuous people are the ones who do not work at all, and desire a lot of material goods. The final line of the film, by the way, is when Rita Wilson acknowledges all that Arnold went through to get the toy, and then pits Arnold’s love for her in competition with his love for their son, with this gem:
Liz: Howard, I’ve been thinking. Everything that you went through today for Jamie really shows how much you love him. And – uh, if you’re willing to go through all of that for him just for a present… well, that makes me wonder…
Jesus Christ. Would anyone blame Arnold if he became a family annihilator on the spot?
Maybe a little. And I cannot stress this enough: the Liz/Rita Wilson character is supposed to be the voice of virtue in the family, and really the whole film. So, let’s continue with the moral hierarchy of the film. †Under the people who do no work and expect to be showered with material comfort, you have Arnold. Arnold wants material stuff too, but he commits the crime of breaking his ass to get it and provide it for his family. Then you have Sinbad. His character has more modest material desires, says that works ď24/7Ē but does so less successfully, so he is a villain with some redeeming moments and qualities. Under Sindbad, you have the cop who Arnold keeps fucking over as he breaks a half dozen laws to buy a toy. Then at the bottom, you have pure evil: clerks working on Christmas Eve in a toy store, selling products they probably canít afford to buy themselves.
Arnold uses the breakdown lane to drive around traffic? Thatís the only crime for which I favor the death penalty. Anyway, letís try to wrap this up before the sun explodes.
OK. Now weíve arrived at the filmís climax, which is incredibly rich with meaning.
I have this horrible feeling that youíre being serious.
Just as kind of a flourish of cleverness, itís a play within a parade within a movie within a TV show… or something. I kind of lost track. But what happens is that Arnold runs from the police who are pursuing him for several crimes. He stumbles into the production of a Christmas parade and is mistaken for the actor meant to play Turbo Man in the parade.
Turbo Man, his sonís hero?
Yeah. So obviously, I can and will wank about that forever. The events that unfold in the parade closely mirror the events we see in a clip of the Turbo Man TV show that opens the film. Here we have Arnold, who as the kidís father, who should be his hero. But the boy seems to look up to Turbo Man as a stand in for a father he doesnít see enough. So Arnold steps into the role of the proxy hero in the parade, which is a fabricated, cartoonish version of the TV show, which is a fabricated, cartoonish depiction of masculinity.
I follow you so far.
The imagery and symbolism here are really something to see. And the effects, action and costumes in this scene are great. Itís funny too. I found a bit in which someone ridiculously costumed as a Christmas gift is knocked over and all the other gifts rush to his aid to be unduly funny.
What is the single most profound image in this scene?
Funny you should ask. You could argue that it’s one of the most profound images in cinema. A portrait of a kind of alienated narcissism that touches on so many themes and ideas, it’s hard to take it all in. †Arnold is dressed as Turbo Man and finally grasps, not just any Turbo Man doll, but a special, ultra-exclusive, limited edition Turbo Man doll. Remember, Arnold’s kid thinks any kid who doesn’t get the doll will be a loser. This special doll, then, is a scepter that, when bestowed upon the boy, will not only prevent him from falling bellow his peers, but elevate him above them all. †And by making this happen, Arnold will be a superior father, and no amount of excessive Christmas decoration will draw men like Phil Hartman’s stay at home dad even with him. They will be the best people, everyone will see and nobody will be able to deny it.
You think everyone is a narcissist.†
No, I don’t even think Arnold’s character is one. I think he’s selfish, but for the most part, he’s just trying to conform with criteria for excellence. †But I think that consumerism in a media driven society draws us all into a kind of alienated narcissism. Real narcissists are not just self-absorbed. They are deeply concerned with forming a version of themselves that they project outwards, for others to regard. In our culture, we often aspire to assemble products and status symbols to create a facade around us, and that becomes our outward projection. We might not be narcissists and heart, but we wind up emulating narcissistic behavior.
Oh great, I’m back in grad school.†
Well, you have to know what is depicted in the film to appreciate it. The most obvious example is when we drive a nice car. We feel good about ourselves, driving down the street, displaying this expensive and elegant product for everyone to see and appreciate. This is us. But, of course, we are actually hidden inside the car. It could just as well be driven by a robot, for all anyone looking at it knows or cares. †So we increase our self esteem by replacing our selves with a product designed to be, and to project, something more than we are. Things more beautiful, powerful and coveted than we could ever be.
And that is Arnold in the suit?
Yes. He inhabits the product he desires. The perfectly designed depiction of masculinity. Nobody is critical of him anymore. Everybody regards him is the embodiment of a perfectly designed, powerful, superior product. Turbo man is a concept, projected and marketed throughout his world. It is admired and coveted and he inhabits it.
And then he obtains the doll of the form he inhabits and holds it up in awe.†
Yeah. This is the moment that parallels the myth of Narcissus being lost in his own reflection in a pool of water. In both stories, what stares back at them is empty. In the Narcissistic mindset, this elevates the image to perfection. It is nothing but an outward projection, with no anxieties, fears or inadequacies. The doll, one of a kind, ultra exclusive, obtainable at that moment, to nobody but Arnold is the perfection of all he has been pursuing.
What actually happens in the scene?
Well, Arnold is in the Turbo Man costume, which is appointed like the outfit of the real Turbo Man, with a jet pack and some fairly harmless weapons. As the Turbo Man of the parade, he gets to chose one child to whom he will give a special edition Turbo Man Doll. Obviously, he plans to chose his own son, thus completing his Doll Quest in spectacular fashion. However, Sinbad shows up and gets into the costume of Turbo Manís nemesis, Dementor and they do battle for the toy. The flaw of the scene and much of the film is it shifts all over the place in tone. Sometimes it feels fairly realistic, but then the boyís life is put in real jeopardy and weíre meant to regard it as a cartoon. Arnold flies face first into the side of a building at 180 miles an hour and he just stiffens up and we get a diving board sound effect. Then at the end, the police take Sinbad to jail.
But you liked the scene?
Sure. I didnít dislike it just because the tone wasnít perfect. The scenes of Arnold flying around, out of control, trying to figure out how the suit operates were a fine depiction of a man trying to figure out how to really play the role of a man. Heís inhabiting the suit, this cartoonish depiction of a perfect man, but he doesnít know how to operate it. Just how he struggles to be the perfect family man and the perfect man in economic terms. Men are expected to be strong and in control and to know what to do and to solve our own problems and to solve problems for other people. But most of us are really like Arnold in that suit, pushing buttons pretty much at random and hoping to ultimately find our course by trial, error and enduring failures until we gain just a semblance of the control we are supposed to have.
The song played over the closing credits (this is a lie).†
And how is all that resolved?
Arnold defeats Sinbad and acquires the toy, though in clumsy fashion. Finally, he reveals himself to his son and wife and they embrace. He is stripping away the facade of the socially defined perfect man and baring himself as a mortal man who can do nothing more than his best to live up to the role. Within two minutes of screen time, his wife expresses her expectation that, in spite of these literally heroic efforts, he somehow found the time and energy to purchase her a myriad of luxurious gifts and he is again gripped with anxiety at the realization that his best isnít good enough.