The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

Deck the Halls (2006)
Directed by John Whitesell
PG
Starring: Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Review by Ben Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
Small town  optometrist and control freak Steve Finch (Broderick) has a vice-grip on Christmas, with every last detail–from his family’s annual “matching sweater” Xmas photo to the town’s Winter Festival–planned and timed with painful precision. When the slick-talking, free-wheeling Buddy Hall (DeVito) moves in next door with his family, he manages to disrupt just about every aspect of Finch’s carefully laid out traditions. An intense rivalry develops between the two that culminates in both hilarity and tragedy. 

Beneath the Surface
Most clear-cut rivalry films derive their tension between a diametrically opposed set of protagonists. Deck the Halls is no exception in this sense. Here we have control vs. spontaneity, tradition vs. whim, respectable doctor vs. smooth salesman. The fascinating difference here is that neither character has the moral high ground on his side. Even in films where the “hero” takes questionable actions in pursuit of his goal, the ultimate goal somehow justifies the minor transgression. But here the rivalry brings out the worst in both Finch and Hall and we witness the downward spiral of both, and neither man’s goal seems satisfying enough for us to forgive them.

There ARE moments when Buddy Hall’s motivation inspires us. He’s dissatisfied with the empty life of a quasi con man, and wants to “do something big, important…monumental.” Very noble indeed, but the vision he gets attached to–to plaster his house with so many lights that it can be seen from space–seems the epitome of the superficial consumerism that has ravaged Christmas.

And the drive to create layer upon layer of tradition (which his own childhood lacked) that fuels Steve Finch sounds worthy enough, but as we see how he alienates his family and snuffs out the real spirit of generosity with his intense enforcement of arbitrary rituals, we can’t side with him either.

In the end, both men do have a transformation. Hall learns you don’t have to be grandiose to be “monumental.” Finch comes to realize that true traditions can’t be contrived, but arise from the natural, spontaneous interactions of families and communities. On the way to those lessons, we are presented with a mirror. While most of us don’t manifest either extreme which Hall and Finch represent, we ARE all battling the selfish impulses that drive both of them. Christmas, finally, is about making the selfish selfless and becoming tools for the visions of others.

Ratings

Cocoa Factor = 8 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 5 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 6 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 9 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

 Overall = 7 out of 10

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

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