Movie Review – Christmas With The Kranks

Christmas With The Kranks (2004)
Written by Chris Columbus
Directed by Joe Roth

There is an air of nastiness, spitefulness & meanness in the Christmas films of this era. It wasn’t just in the holiday pictures, but if you looked at comedies and action flicks of the period, you find the same simmering hatred of humanity just oozing out of every pore. It could be argued that Chris Columbus is one of the chief architects of this trend. His duology of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York seeded American holiday cinema with an air of cruelty. But cruelty has always been present in America, especially in our stories. Look at the deluge of racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc., et al., ad infinitum. Americans (and I am one of them) are mean people because of social conditioning under capitalism. Competition supersedes cooperation. Cruelty outweighs kindness.

Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen & Jamie Lee Curtis, respectively) have seen the apple of their eye, young Blair, off to serve in the Peace Corps in Peru. This means for the first time since her birth, the Kranks will not have their daughter under their roof for Christmas. Luther calculates that in the previous year, they spend over six grand on the holiday. He decides that half of that could send him and Nora on a lovely Caribbean cruise which she initially balks at. The community expects that the Kranks will go all out for Christmas. Won’t they feel betrayed? They do, actually, and in a manner resembling an angry mob, they begin trying to cram all the season’s greetings that can muster down Luther’s throat. Neighborhood bully Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Akroyd) makes it his personal mission to stop the Kranks from enjoying Christmas in the way they choose and to conform to the mass ideology.

Christmas With the Kranks, based on the novel by John Grisham (yes, the lawyer guy), purports to be a satire of conformity and how people go overboard with the holiday. Yet, it concludes with the resolution being that the Kranks go overboard more than ever before and embrace Christmas even more vehemently than ever. Luther is consistently framed as unreasonable despite being the protagonist. His refusal to donate money to charity or put up a decoration he already owns doesn’t make any sense with what he claims about Christmas. He can still go on his cruise and throw up a dusty plastic snowman he keeps in the garage. If we examine the motivation of his insipid neighbors, it’s that Luther has set a boundary between himself and his community, and they proceed to tell him “No.” And the end of the film proves them “right.” That’s pretty fucked up.

Spending $6,000+ on a single holiday is insane. In today’s dollars, with inflation, this would be approximately $9,500. Can you imagine living in America right now and justifying an expense of nearly $10k on Christmas? The Kranks aren’t independently wealthy; Luther doesn’t even realize how much they have spent until he does the calculations. He’s being responsible with his finances and choosing an option that cuts their expenses in half from the previous year. But this is undercut by people whose finances this won’t affect; they demand that Luther provide them with an adequate amount of Christmas expression to satiate their groupthink. Has Luther not given enough for decades already? Does he not deserve the right to disengage from tradition & social expectations? I would fucking hate Christmas if I lived in this damn town too.

One of the greatest sins of this supposed “comedy” is that it is funny in the sense that a Home Improvement episode was “funny,” i.e., it is not. Not a single character here shows any genuine sense of human emotion & thought. They are all broadly written live-action cartoons from Jamie Lee’s hooting laugh & frantic scrambling to Erik Per Sullivan’s holiday-obsessive Dennis the Menace analog. The movie attempts a nauseating cloying ending trying to show Luther why participating in Christmas is a good thing that he must do, but it rings hollow. The Kranks receive word from their darling Blair is actually coming home for Christmas (just a month or less into her Peace Corps tour?) and is bringing her new beau Enrique. The film takes time to make fun of his name in the most Red State Boomer dad manner possible (N. Reeky) before breaking Luther and making him take a thick hot load of Christmas down his gullet.

I can objectively see that this film isn’t funny because it wants us to see the Kranks as unreasonable and the townsfolk, while overzealous, are ultimately “right.” They are NOT. The villains in the story are the people in the community, and they fucking win! The Christmas Spirit seems to be embodied by giving up and joining groupthink. What is hilarious is that the film avoids any & all religious iconography associated with the holiday, which can only lead us to think the theme here is the communal value of consumerism and going into debt? Christmas With The Kranks is one of the most morally awful Christmas movies I have ever seen, and it will make you hate people when the end credits roll.


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