Christmas Stories: Miracle On 34th Street (1947) & Love Actually (2003)
Did you know that Warner Bros. actually had so little faith in Miracle On 34th Street that they released it in the spring and tried to avoid advertising the fact that the movie takes places at Christmas (hence this poster instead of one of the more Santa-themed ones you might be familiar with). That’s crazy, right? They apparently thought it would be too schmaltzy. And actually so did I. My folks gave me this movie on DVD back when I first moved to NY and I’ll be honest, I never watched it until this weekend, though I had seen it when I was younger. But, considering we’d already watched White Christmas, Holiday Inn and a few other favorites, we landed on Miracle because Em had never seen it. In the end we were both pleasantly surprised. See, the idea is that a man claiming to be Santa replaces a drunk “Santa” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends up working in the main store as Santa. Maureen O’Hara hires him and her daughter (Natalie Wood) comes to form a friendship with the man even though she doesn’t believe he’s Santa (or in anything non-logical, she’s like mini Vulcan thanks to her mom’s programming). Of course, as you might expect, the man claiming to be Santa has his sanity called into question and visits with a crappy jerk who’s not even really a psychiatrist, who, eventually drives Santa crazy enough that he knocks the jerk in the head with his cane. Somehow, this gets him institutionalized, so O’Hara’s neighbor/love interest (played by John Payne) represents him as a lawyer and eventually SPOILER WARNING proves that he’s Santa thanks to some delivered mail.
Like I said, I thought it would be too ooey gooey, but the film is really well done. I think it’s balanced with Christmas spirit and real world doubt, kind of like The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (it’s not as weird of a comparison as you might think). I also really enjoyed Wood’s performance and was shocked to read the she died in 1981 after falling off a boat that her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken were in. It’s really too bad. So, give Miracle a shot, have a good time and enjoy some fantastic performances.
Though if you’re looking for a real rollercoaster of a Christmas movie, I can’t recommend Love Actually more as it is one of my favorites of the last 10 years (along with Elf). Love Actually is one of those movies that has a ton of big time British actors (Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, and plenty of others) with several stories interacting with each other in all kinds of ways you don’t necessarily notice on the first viewing. I’m not going to get into all the stories, but Grant plays the Prime Minister who falls in love with one of his assistants and Neeson tries to help his son get the girl of his dreams even after his wife (and the kid’s mom) dies prematurely. What I love about Love Actually, is not only does it cover the gamut of emotions you might feel around the holidays, but it’s intricately put together. I’ve seen this movie probably around 5 or 6 times and I’m always recognizing new things and connections between characters that I didn’t catch the last time around. I also like it because it reminds me of a really good Nick Hornby book (and not just because it’s British), but because there isn’t a single character that feels like a one-trick pony.
I did have a little trouble this time around with Laura Linney’s character. See, she’s American and plays as such. Her character arc involves her finally going out with this guy she’s been crushing on forever, but she’s also taking care of her mentally handicapped brother who continually takes precedence over everything else. And by “taking care of” I mean, he’s in an institution that lets him call her at all hours of the day. Aside from not believing that she’d kick the super-hot dude out of bed, I also don’t get why her mentally handicapped American brother is with her in England? There are plenty of plausible explanations, but I do wish it would have been addressed because it nags at me (or at least it did this time around). But, that’s a pretty minor nitpick and I still really have a good time watching this one every year.
Another thing about this movie that I enjoy is the fact that every year it seems like I recognize someone in it that I didn’t the year before. The last time it was Martin Freeman (a.k.a. Tim from the British Office), this time it was January Jones playing one of the American girls that a British dude meets in a bar. See, he figured that he’d score like crazy in the States so he just bought a ticket and flew out. He went to the first bar the cab found and lucked out finding not one but four hot chicks who all sleep together and invite him to stay over. Good job, man!
So, as you can probably tell from this brief description, this movie has a lot going on. Everyone I’ve handed it to has loved it and I think you will too. Just give it a shot tough guy!