Long ago, either by chance or secret, underground, unelected committee, it was decided which movies were worthy of the moniker “Christmas Classic.” We are all aware of the films that comprise this list—It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Christmas Evil, The Santa Conundrum, Too Many Santas, Too Many Santas 2: The Santa-ning, just to name a few—but what if there are other holiday classics out there, movies that have been unfairly overlooked or outright shunned, waiting patiently to be discovered? For example, Netflix is packed to the proverbial gills with Christmas movies that I’ve never even heard of! What if one of them is the next It’s A Wonderful Life? The next Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause? The next Santa With A Shotgun?
I’ve made it my goal this holiday season to discover more films for the “Christmas Classics List,” a list currently on display at The Smithsonian in Washington, DC. You may remember it’s cameo in the second Night in the Museum film, which was cut out of the movie proper, but included in the deleted scenes on the Special Edition Blu-ray, voiced by rap’s Biz Markie. Throughout December, I’ll be watching a bevy of holiday films, some currently streaming on Netflix, others recorded from TV, and still others from my personal collection, in the hopes of discovering a lost or overlooked classic, a Christmas diamond in the Holiday rough. I’m calling this feature The New Christmas Classics??? and here comes our first candidate now.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1998)
Plot: Jonathan Taylor Thomas (doing an 86-minute Christian Slater impression) plays Jake, a Zack Morris-type, whose dad (Gary Cole, slumming it) promises him a Porsche if he can make it from the posh boarding school he attends in California to Larchmont, New York in time for Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, Jake runs afoul of some campus toughs, who knock him unconscious, dress him up in a Santa suit, glue a Santa beard to his face and leave him for dead in the desert. What follows is a “humorous” cross country road trip, rife with “hilarious” peril, in which JTT learns a handful of valuable life lessons. It’s sort of like Planes, Trains & Automobiles without the jokes and the dynamic lead performances. Also stars a young Jessica Biel.
As much as I enjoy movies about privileged white kids learning important lessons from various poor people and other assorted lowlifes, I could forge a real connection with I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Sure, the soundtrack was packed with recognizable Christmas tunes, but for some reason I just couldn’t lose myself to the holiday spirit. I think it had something to do with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. In fact, I know it had something to do with Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
Look, I’m sure he’s a nice dude in real life—I haven’t heard any stories about him verbally assaulting any significant others or kicking kittens—but Jonathan Taylor Thomas is so intensely unlikable in I’ll Be Home For Christmas, it’s nearly unbearable. Granted, maybe it’s his character, Jake, I don’t like. He’s a schemer and a liar and half-a-sociopath, but there’s something else, something unsavory under all of it, and I have a sinking sensation that it’s JTT himself. He’s just so smarmy and cocksure at the same time, and that Christian Slater act doesn’t help. I know Slater’s been getting shit for years for ripping off Nicholson, but that doesn’t seem so egregious when watching JTT rip-off a notorious rip-off artist.
My problem with Jonathan Taylor Thomas’s overall personality leads to another weird problem I found myself having while watching I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Like it or not, Jake is the film’s hero, and like it or not, there were several points in the film in which I felt sorry for him, and in the end, I even started rooting for him, even while growling through gritted teeth, “Stop talking like that!” and “Why are you doing everything you are doing right now?! Stop it!!!” The resulting mix of feelings led to a spiritual nausea that made the viewing experience kind of difficult.
Another question that came to my mind while watching I’ll Be Home For Christmas was that old bon mot that many people detest, but has served me just fine over the last 30-plus years, “Who is this movie for?” I had a guy yell at me online—I assumed he was yelling, and shaking his fists threateningly, though I guess I’ll never truly know—for asking this of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle Don Jon. “It’s for whoever wants to watch it,” was essentially what he said, after explaining he hated when people asked this question and called me a stupid idiot moron (not really, but that’s how it felt) for even asking. All I meant then, and all I mean now, is when the studio sat down and looked at I’ll Be Home For Christmas, who did they believe the film would appeal to, who was their intended target audience? Was it kids? Couldn’t be, really. I mean, you had Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who we all fell in love with on Tool Time, as the star, but he wasn’t really a kid anymore and the situations he finds himself in are pretty dark—or dark for a Disney family holiday comedy—and adult-oriented. So, maybe Disney wanted a more adult crowd? Um, probably not, because there isn’t anything truly funny or original going on and the story isn’t even a little engaging, and you know how much adults love that stuff. Well, families then. Families would eat their Christmas dinners, maybe sing a few carols around the old tannenbaum and then fire up the VCR for a little I'll Be Home For Christmas-magic, after all, it is named after a popular holiday standard. But, no, I don’t buy that either, because there is nothing for the majority of families in the American viewing public to latch onto or identify with. I don’t know about you, but I never got a Porsche for Christmas. But there are some important lessons about being selfless and giving to others and not being an asshole. I don’t know. Maybe that is a stupid question. Maybe that guy on the Flop House Facebook page was right. Maybe I am a stupid moron idiot dummy.
Christmas Classic, Fine Holiday Fare or Lump o’ Coal?: There’s nothing going on in I’ll Be Home For Christmas that hasn’t been done elsewhere better, the aforementioned Trains, Planes & Automobiles, for example. Or Christmas With The Kranks, a film I’ll be discussing later this month, which also features one of the stars of Tool Time being a complete asshole (not of the unbearable, JTT-type however), learning important life lessons at Christmastime. I’m afraid this one is a big old Lump o’ Coal.
Next time: A false start followed by gelatinous glop of holiday schmaltz, Canadian-style!