When at last fascism has planted its final root in American soil, it will come not at the behest of a goose-stepping brown shirt, but rather the plucky, rosy-cheeked gentleman clad only in a Santa suit. And if films like Christmas With the Kranks are any indication, we’ll accept this jolly invasion after mere token resistance, preferring the robotic glow of neighborly charms to such selfish indulgences as individualism, free thought, and the audacity to question tradition. This film had the makings of a true holiday classic — a bitter husband and his frantic wife decide to thumb their noses at the ridiculous “spirit” of the season and do whatever the hell they please — only to surrender its truly radical message for the insipid, mindless rituals of government sponsored Christianity.
And don’t be fooled by the insistence that Christmas is a secular celebration. As one especially insensitive neighbor says when told that the Kranks would be opting out of Christmas, “Why? Are they Jewish? Buddhist?” Perish the thought. And what is the crabby response? “Nah, none of them.” Them. His voice practically drips with contempt for diversity. For this is about more than the refusal to buy overpriced Christmas trees, or put 7-foot snowmen on the roof; this is a step away from the idea that every December, true-blue (or is it red, given the electoral map) Americans gather together, spread good tidings, and worship at the altar of Jesus Christ. And of course, no one can imagine that anyone would choose to do it differently.
Tim Allen is Luther Krank, a snippy businessman who decides one day that it would be better to save a few thousand dollars and opt out of the usual Christmas activities. No tree, no lights, no cards, no presents, and no parties. Instead, Luther proposes a 10-day cruise, much to the delight of his nutty wife, Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis). After all, their vapid, dim-bulb daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) has moved away to Peru (where she’ll be working in the Peace Corps) and it’s about time the married couple do something for themselves. As this is Christmas in Bill O’Reilly’s America, this will not stand. While Luther and Nora prepare for their dream vacation (buying swimwear, hitting the tanning salon, and losing weight), their neighbors, led by the Gestapo-like Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), gossip about the violation of neighborly conduct and harass the Kranks at every opportunity.
They make phone calls, come knocking at all hours, and never let up in their brutal, humorless assault. Again, had the film stayed the course and mocked the wild-eyed neighbors, this might have been a semi-decent film. Obviously, with irritating twits like Allen and Curtis aboard, it could never be a complete success, but there would be points for bravery. Instead, these obsessive pests are the heroes of the piece; inspiring, after all, the renewal of the holiday spirit (and reverence for a well-oiled messiah) in a couple that nearly broke from righteousness forever.
The Kranks, as they resist the totalitarianism of their surroundings, are childish, yes, but they appeal to the Scrooges and holiday haters in the audience when they turn away manipulative Boy Scouts, cops peddling calendars, and even the church. Fine, Luther gives in here, as he initially tells his wife that the traditional donations would not be sent, only to cave once she acts like, well, a chick. There were thousands of reasons why I knew this crap-fest would follow convention, but this was the very first clue: we’ll boycott this nonsense, but why punish the church?
Not even the Kranks will go that far. And it was a no-brainer that the screenplay would banish scathing dialogue in favor of such slapstick as Luther spraying water on the sidewalk so that it freezes and assorted folks slip, fly up in the air, and land with a thud. The screenplay was penned by Home Alone cocksucker Chris Columbus, after all. I didn’t expect the film to head in my preferred direction — Luther flips out, burns a pile of crosses and Bibles on the lawn, assassinates several Salvation Army bell ringers, poisons a few dozen cookies before passing them out to the neighborhood children, anally rapes his eggnog-imbibing wife with a candy cane — but they could have held out a bit longer before selling out to the forces of darkness.
Before we’ve had time to somewhat enjoy the anti-Christmas spirit, daughter Blair calls unexpectedly, announcing that she’s met some Peruvian hunk and is coming home. What’s more, she expects an old-fashioned Christmas celebration, complete with a decorated tree, her favorite cookies, and honey baked ham. So, within seconds, Nora nixes the travel plans and runs around with her head cut off trying to make everything perfect for her little girl. Outside of the offensive, depressing reversal, this brings to light one of the most ridiculous mother-daughter relationships in the history of the cinema. When this blond dufus makes demands, people fall into line! Apparently, she’s quite the perfect child, for when the angry neighbors hear that the Kranks’ plight involves Blair, they pull together like their lives were on the line. Remember, too, that she selflessly joined the Peace Corps, although I doubt they’ll be pleased by the fact that after only three weeks, she’s dropped out to get married and have babies.
But she’s really no different than most Americans; she’ll volunteer her time and give of herself until something better (and more handsome) comes along. Or maybe that’s the film’s way of saying that women need to stop running around the world and just settle down with hearth and home. Yeah, that sounds more like it.
Needless to say, there’s also some mysterious stranger who seems to know everyone in town, only no one can identify him. He shows up at the big Christmas party, where he turns out to be — you guessed it — Santa Claus himself. Or maybe he’s Jesus. The only proof I have is that right before the closing credits, the fucker’s VW bug turns into a sleigh and he’s whisked away into the night by a slew of reindeer. And Mr. Peru turns out to be a doctor, irresistibly charming, and better yet, the life of the party. I can’t imagine what he sees in Blair, other than the fact that she’s likely to surrender to his overbearing Latin machismo.
Nora also bullies Luther into keeping all details of the now-cancelled cruise quiet, for no reason whatsoever that isn’t psychotic. What, she doesn’t want her daughter to know that mommy and daddy might have a life that doesn’t involve her pathetic neediness? Luther even gives away his cruise package to the sour neighbor, whose ugly wife has cancer and may not live to see another Christmas. Shit, I’m not giving $3,000 worth of anything to my neighbor unless it involves an exchange of a weekend’s worth of Hot Carls. But Luther has seen the light, and he’s put his self-absorption behind so that the neighborhood can live. As Vic says near the end, “Who would be so stupid as to skip Christmas?” It just shouldn’t happen. And if these people continue to hold power, it never will happen again. The risks are simply too high.
One last thought: it has come to my attention that Christmas With the Kranks is receiving some of the year’s worst reviews, with the exception of right-wing Christian “critics.” Hell, the movie’s full-page ad in my local paper featured four glowing reviews from such bastions of cinephilia as the 700 Club, the Film Advisory Board, FamilyNet, and Good News TV. Even Michael Medved, Christ’s best friend (and sweaty lover) in the Jewish community, proclaimed it an instant classic. What’s going on here? Why are only fanatics and fools embracing such a cloying, predictable load of swill? Obviously, someone has to carry the torch for family values, even though the only values I see on display here are rigid conformity, blackmail, mean-spiritedness, and blind devotion. Fine, that’s essentially the Republican Party platform every election year, but how could some see through it all and others be so painfully naive? American Christians, like the Taliban, want everyone in their sphere of influence to do, not think. Questions or alternatives are banished outright in favor of “unity” and “community,” which are striking euphemisms for anti-intellectual slavery.
Think about it this way — why do so many people feel depressed around the holidays? Allowing for those who are clinically depressed and in need of treatment, the rest of these “unfortunate” folks are merely buying into the idea that unless one is frantic with activity at this time, one is unfulfilled. Shallow and empty, even. It’s always fascinating that it remains inconceivable to so many that anyone spend Christmas Day alone, yet that same hypothetical lonely soul is completely ignored the rest of the year. That poor man on the corner begging for change is a lazy pest and the product of a liberal welfare system during warm summer months, but a child of God to be invited over for stuffing once the snows of December start whipping through. And once he’s fed, the fuckers on his own. So, for these religious hypocrites and radicals, Christmas is not at all about human beings coming together and having substantive conversation, or doing anything constructive. It’s more about signing over one’s sense of self, abandoning free will and the right of dissent, and giggling like a hyena while sharing dull, lifeless anecdotes about previous holiday gatherings. It’s about the homeland; God and country. It’s about pitiful, cheerful surrender.