Christmas with the Kranks
The first time you saw the trailer for Christmas with the Kranks, you may have thought precisely what I did: “Tim Allen in another Christmas movie?” And unfortunately, you may still be itching to ask that question after seeing Kranks, too -- just like members of the press were after screenings of the movie in Manhattan earlier this month.
The storyline of Christmas with the Kranks is very slight. Yet again, we are presented with what is apparently the quintessential modern American Christmas dilemma: why do we continue to put so much effort into celebrating Christmas when the holiday season makes the majority of us so stressed out during the weeks leading up to that magical Christmas day? Since Charles Dickens, and likely before that, Scrooge and his variant cousins have repeatedly cropped up in books and films to remind us that the value of Christmas is not in the rituals and the trappings, but in the truth of the spirit behind the traditions.
These days, in fact, it seems as if that reminder itself has become a ritual. Even a recent Christmas classic like A Christmas Story is not a tale of goodness and light, but of Christmases gone ironically wrong -- and which get righted in the improbable giving of one memorable, if ultimately misguided and failed, gift. Even last year’s Elf was driven by the need to “save Christmas” by literally recapturing the spirit that fuels Santa’s sleigh.
So what makes Christmas with the Kranks a worthwhile addition to the tradition? What does it have to say of value? After all, Tim Allen told reviewers, the movie wouldn’t have been his own “first choice” to make. “The best line,” he elaborated, “was when I called my mother and said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna start a new movie, not The Shaggy Dog,’ and she goes, ‘Oh good.’
‘It’s a Grisham book.’ She goes, ‘Oh, thank God. Do you get to kill a lawyer or something down in Havana?’ ‘No. No, it’s more of a morality play. About a family making decisions.’ ‘Are you an attorney?’ ‘No, I’m actually a highly skilled accountant. It happens around Christmas time...’ ‘So you kill a judge, but it’s...’ ‘Yeah, and all of that’s in there...’ And then I told her the name. And luckily, she loved the book. But she goes, ‘What do you know?
Another Christmas movie. That’s something different.’”
The fact is, Allen frankly admits, he now does Christmas movies because “they’ll pay” him to do them. “I’ve been successful at this time of year,” he says, and with that success comes “a lot of pressure to be the ‘Christmas Guy.’” Pressure not unlike the Christmas pressure which Luther Krank feels, and against which Krank selfishly rebels.
And Allen was drawn to the improbable twist at the end of the movie in which Krank must decide between his own selfish desires to ditch Christmas, or doing the right thing for a neighbor he hates. “It’s a lonely thing to change from selfish to selfless,” Allen says. “That transition, for a human being, is huge.”
But it’s a transition that Allen knows applies in the real world,
too: that moment when “there’s nothing left to hold on to. You reach some sort of emotional bottom. And instead of repeating the same behavior, you decide to move forward to some other behavior. Because the definition of insanity is: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. And that’s how most of us live our lives.”
Luther Krank finally decides -- improbably, but still true to real life -- that he’s just had enough. He can remain “petulant and self-absorbed,” focused on getting what he wants; or he can start thinking about the needs of others.
Luther’s moment is one with which Allen is intimately familiar.
“I’ve been there a million times in my life, where someone has reminded me, ‘This isn’t really about you.’”
And that other-centeredness certainly captures the spirit of Christmas, and the film presents it in fine focus in its closing moments. When all is said and done, Christmas with the Kranks offers up values that are good for more than just one day a year.
It’s a pity, to be sure, that our society can’t observe the number one Elf rule to treat every day like Christmas. It’s a smaller pity that Kranks serves up little else of holiday cheer or humor on the way to its valuable, if Santa’s-shop-worn, conclusion.
—Interview with Dan Aykroyd
—About this Film pdf file