I had heard of the movie Elf but had never watched it prior to friends recommending it when I confessed to not having watched many holiday films that I felt were worthy of review. Although the story line was odd, odd can be good, and I figured that if this many people liked a film, it couldn’t be so bad (exception: Love Actually), so I gave it a shot, and I’m so happy that I did!
Buddy (Will Ferrell), was an orphan who stowed away in Santa’s bag as an infant and was subsequently informally adopted and raised as an elf by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). Buddy is beloved by his elf family, but doesn’t quite fit in, literally. He is much bigger and taller than those around him, and when he inadvertently learns that he is not just an unusual elf, but actually a human, he decides to go to New York City to meet his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). Before we go any further, I have to point out the glaringly obvious faux pas of Buddy, who is supposed to be a 30 year old man, one who has never had to survive capitalism, who has never experienced grief or strife in his life, being portrayed by Ferrell, who looks at least 15 years older than that. Then there’s Caan, who would have been better off cast as Buddy’s brother than his father. Meanwhile, Mary Steenburgen, who’s cast in the role of Buddy’s stepmother, Emily, hasn’t aged since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Read: She’s out here looking way younger than both Caan and Ferrell. All that said, I simply cannot imagine another actor other than Ferrell who could do this character justice.
Buddy is incredible naive, optimistic, exuberant, compassionate, and unwittingly hilarious. Though the jaded people which he encounters, especially his father, are initially suspicious of him, Buddy’s unflappable joy and goodness eventually brings out the best in those around him. Buddy’s example teaches everyone to be kinder, more trusting of their instincts, and to have more faith in the holiday season. Filled with unexpected humour, Elf absolutely lives up to the rest of Ferrell’s body of work, and even managed to charm a holiday film hater like yours truly, which is a real feat. Elf is an interesting enough story, but Ferrell’s legendary commitment to his character is what makes it a truly great comedy.
I give this one 4.5 stars.