Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks will open in a few days starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s based on John Grisham’s 2001 novella, Skipping Christmas.

Tim Allen is Luther Krank and Curtis plays his wife, Nora. When their 23-year old daughter and only child, Blair, joins the Peace Corps and departs for Peru the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Luther realizes that he and Nora don’t have to do the Christmas thing this year, and can just skip Christmas.

So he figures out that he and Nora spent more than $6000.00 on Christmas the year before and that they can take a Caribbean cruise for half the amount. He gets to the point where he wants to boycott Christmas. Nora agrees to take the cruise only when Luther agrees that they will give their usual donation to the church and the children’s hospital.

The families of their Chicago-suburban neighborhood have a collective fit, however. Luther refuses to put up their Frosty on the roof, refuses to buy the police calendar, refuses to buy a Christmas tree from the Scouts. And he keeps running into and stepping on the big white cat that belongs to his neighbors across the street. Bev, the wife, has cancer and she is not doing well. E. Emmet Walsh plays her husband. He dislikes Luther because of his touchy relationship with his cat, and now even more because of Luther’s cantankerous Christmas boycott.

And so on and so forth the film keeps building to the moment when Blair calls home from the Miami airport telling them she is bringing her boyfriend home (a young Peruvian doctor) so he can experience all their neighborhood and family traditions at Christmas. All of a sudden the cruise is off and Luther and Nora have to create Christmas, mend broken bridges and find Blair’s favorite hickory honey ham in about eight hours. The neighborhood steps up to the plate and the action begins.

Without giving away the high point of the film, which is quite touching in a formulaic way, I will tell you the funniest (for me). When Nora finally gets her hands on that ham, a huge Mack  truck runs over it and turns it into “spam.” (I lived in Guam for six months where the national food is Spam… and this scenario really made me laugh; imagine if SPAM had been written on the side of the truck or on a billboard; that’s what I mean about the film not being funny enough; when I have to start writing in part of the script in my head….)

Overall, the film takes too long to get to Blair’s phone call. Luther isn’t really a very convincing Scrooge and I think they could have put both Tim Allen’s and Jamie Lee Curtis’ considerable comedic talents to much better use. I wasn’t laughing enough – except for that darned smashed ham.

However, this is a nice film and a “family” film if by this your definition is “nothing offensive.” I prefer to think of a family film as one that appeals to all ages; but this one really is for the more mature and financially comfortable Christmas audience that wants to kick back, relax and enjoy how a somewhat grumpy husband with a somewhat gormless wife face the empty nest at Christmas, and at the same time have a little fun and get a little inspiration at this blessed time of year.

Themes: generosity, community, family, grace, civility

(Names are always important in stories. Krank = kranky= krankenhaus = hospital in German. In otherwords, where you go when you have a complaint – or by extension, are a complainer. Enter Luther Krank.)


Mean Girls

Mean Girls is the latest in my catch-up program for films released earlier this year that I missed in the theater. Tina Fey, of Saturday Night Live, wrote the screenplay and acts in the film as a math teacher.

I have to admit at the outset that my benchmark for entertaining flicks about teen life is Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film Clueless, that is an updated version of Jane Austin’s Emma. Mean Girls is not as funny as Clueless and bears similarities to many teen flicks without actually repeating any of them. Though I think the film struggles for its identity (genre?), it has some sequences that reveal much truth about high school agony, and problems that plague teens such as eating disorders and consequences of alcohol.

What Mean Girls and Clueless have in common is that they are both about character and the consequences of gossip – Mean Girls in a much more blunt and serious fashion.

I didn’t find Mean Girls as entertaining as I anticipated, but I think it’s thoughtful and would provide teens and parents with much to talk about. (Certainly the parents in the film are insignificant as is common in movies aimed at teens.)

Good for Tina Fey – but I liked 13 Going on 30 better, too.