Christmas movies are something kind of special because when they’re any good, they really last and get watched year after year. And you know what? They often don’t even have to really be any good. If you see them as a kid, one almost feels a sense of obligation to fulfil the holiday nostalgia quota in order to function through December. I’ve tried to remain as objective as possible toward the Christmas classics that I indulge in through the holiday season. What are classics for me aren’t what everyone grew up with and felt attached to. For example, so many of my peers grew up with A Christmas Story, a tale about a young boy who wanted a toy gun for Christmas and has many misadventures at school and home. It warms their hearts and makes them remember when they were a kid so they will likely share with their children the movie and the chain will continue. Me? I watched A Christmas Story for the first time in my twenties and found it to be not particularly funny and poorly paced for a family film. This is a controversial opinion, I know, and I have nothing against the movie or any of its fans. I just don’t like it. Sue me. I have a Christmas classic between my brothers and I though. When I first watched this film, it was on a VHS tape recorded off of TV so there were a few missing scenes filled in with commercial tails as my mom did the best she could to cut the ads out. So, every year my older brother and I would dig out from the collection of tapes full of old Star Trek: TNG episodes and Wonderful World of Disney specials the tape of Christmas specials. And we would often skip right to Richard Donner’s Scrooged.
While I wasn’t sure if I really could have an objective opinion of this movie, in reality, I think I can. There are a number of reasons. First, I have seen tons of adaptations of A Christmas Carol through the years and only a few of them I would watch again, especially over and over again. Next, when I first saw this movie, I wasn’t the target audience. That’s worth taking into consideration. This is a much more adult version of the movie compared to say, the Muppets version or Mickey’s Christmas Carol. But I saw it when I was in my single digit years and I found it hilarious then. And I continued to find it hilarious the older I got for some of the same and different reasons. My perspective and understanding of the movie has changed but, most importantly, it is still funny. Funnier than before, in fact.
It follows Frank Cross (Bill Murray), the youngest Television Executive in the world who is known for making cut throat decisions in order to boost ratings. This includes showing a graphic and violent ad campaign (not to mention completely unrelated) for his live broadcast of A Christmas Carol on Christmas eve, firing an employee on Christmas eve for voicing a concern, and just generally being cheap and greedy. But that night he gets visited by his old dead and zombified boss who tells him that Frank needs to change in order to save his soul. He tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts. One will take him to his past, one his present, and one will show him his future.
Scrooged is a clever mix of satire and an honest retelling of the classic Charles Dickens’ story of A Christmas Carol. The events and the message are essentially the same so it is very true to the heart and soul of the story, but it takes place in a modern (well, late 80’s) world where the story of A Christmas Carol exists and is over done like it is in real life. There is a layer of irony that Cross is trying to profit on playing the show and that he doesn’t see his spiritual visit coming as he is more of a Scrooge than Ebeneezer is in the book. Who would? It’s one thing to know the story and another to experience it. But I think what makes it very true to the book is near the end as Frank is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, the film really steers away from the comedy and takes its message seriously. It’s a very surreal and grim picture that shouldn’t have been turned comedic and Richard Donner knew that.
While the circumstances are very outrageous, they do well mixing that with the real world. There is a lot of very true humanity in many of the characters. So, even when Frank is over the top, he gets brought down to the real world and responds very honestly to what he sees in his employees and family outside of how they act around him. And, much like the classic story, we start to understand his motives and his character the more we see of his past. That leads to some very heartfelt moments which are crucial to invest the audience into the picture. Comedy is great, but the story needs heart to flourish.
Bill Murray is fantastic in the role of Frank Cross. What he is really great at portraying is a strangely realistic madness. Not to mention that, as the night progresses, Frank really starts to lose it and no one can lose their mind on screen quite like Bill Murray. Cross is a complicated man, with a tender heart, but hardened and corrupted by greed, just like Ebeneezer Scrooge. But as he starts to get closer to his past, by revisiting his lost love Claire, we see him trying, unprompted by the spirits that visit him, to make amends and rekindle that relationship. Naturally, she doesn’t like what he’s become and that’s where the ghosts come in. But Murray is a great leading man and is able to make Cross, despite all of the despicable things he does, strangely charming and always fun to watch.
He is joined by a pretty capable cast including Bobcat Goldthwait, who plays the employee that Cross fired who quickly degenerates from a working man into a complete lunatic. He gives a stupendous and hilariously over the top performance. Karen Allen of Indiana Jones fame plays Claire and is a charming and very down to Earth love interest. You can see why Frank fell in love with her right away. Also of note is Alfre Woodard as Cross’ assistant Grace, who counter’s her boss’ over the top personality with a very relateable and realistic woman who is just trying to work her best for the sake of her family. I’m leaving people out, but the whole cast is great, making a very colourful group of characters.
Scrooged seems to have some haters, so many I’m missing something. I don’t know. I love it and I know I’m not the only one. That’s fine; people can stick with A Christmas Story if that is what they prefer. Me? Apparently I like seeing rich businessmen go completely mad for the holidays, as is the holiday tradition for many. Who am I to break tradition anyway?