After a good Thanksgiving dinner and Black Friday shopping, Elf is a heartwarming and funny film to watch to kick off the Christmas vibes.
In Elf, Will Ferrel, stars as the actor Buddy, a human raised as one of Santa's elves who discovers at age 30 that he has a real father named Walter (James Caan) who lives in New York City and is on Santa's "naughty" list. Buddy leaves the North Pole to find Walter, knowing only what he's learned from the elves. (Thus, he's a whiz at making snowflake decorations and spreading good cheer, and he always assumes the best about everyone -- not especially useful skills in Manhattan.) Walter, who's in publishing, is in trouble because he has to find a successful new children's story by Christmas Eve. At first, he doesn't believe that Buddy is his son, but after Buddy passes a DNA test, Walter reluctantly brings him home to meet his wife (Mary Steenburgen) and son. Meanwhile, when Buddy stops by the Santa display at Gimbel's, he meets pretty Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). On his way to saving the day and ensuring a happy ending for everyone from the North Pole to NYC, Buddy gets many chances to do silly things as he experiences New York and gets to know Jovie and his family. Buddy has trouble connecting with his family, but eventually they grow to love his goofy personality. Jovie comes off a bit intimidating, but that does not scare Buddy away.
This movie is sweet and funny, though it can't quite seem to make up its mind whether people should need proof of Santa's existence or not. Some of the jokes in Elf work better than others, and the talents of Caan, Steenburgen, Bob Newhart (as Buddy's adoptive father), and Ed Asner (as Santa) are neglected. But directorJon Favreau shows some verve and keeps the story moving quickly enough to keep it from feeling like a series of skits.
Deschanel nicely shows us the way that Buddy appeals to Jovie's longing for a place where singing and sweetness are encouraged. Peter Dinklage has a marvelous cameo as a haughty author of children's books, making his appearance much more than a sight gag. And Ferrell? His lanky cluelessness has a slightly muddled but imperishable sweetness that gives an endearing quality to all the characters he plays, including Buddy, who's a sort of human Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Buddy's naive pleasure in the world around him is ultimately almost as endearing to us as it is to (almost) everyone he meets.