02 January 2015


Twelve Things about All I Want for Christmas

12. You can't tell from the poster, but all that the two children on it want for Christmas is for their divorced parents to get back together. A worthy wish. But if you know your Hollywood history, you may be able to tell that Home Alone had broken the box office just one year earlier, and the producers of All I Want for Christmas might have thought that having some sort of booby trap on their poster would bring in the same audiences.

And well, it wasn't totally false advertising. The O'Fallon children may not have Kevin McAllister's Rube-Goldberg creativity, but they do set up another sort of elaborate trap.

11. Within the first ten minutes, we know the family dynamics. Ethan and Hallie O'Fallon live with their mother in their grandmother's gorgeous New York townhouse, but still see their father quite often--at least often enough that they're not put out when he's over two hours late for a visit. And when he does arrive, they want him to go back to work . . . and to take them with him. Their mother is still a bit bitter about the diner that she never wanted her ex-husband to start, but the two kids absolutely love it. And there's really nothing they'd rather do then spend an evening playing short-order cook and waitress in the family business--and not just because they get to pocket the tips!

10. I was surprised to see such a strong sense of family tradition in this movie. How many other children's movies can you name in which the older generations understand that their personal dreams are ultimately just stepping stones for their children, while the younger generations are keen to live up to the legacy of those who came before?

Living up to a legacy . . . in style!

Lauren Bacall is fabulous in her small role as an aging theatre legend and grandmother. And as we can see from her daughter and granddaughter's own musical talents, she has been a wise and nurturing matriarch.

9. But what about the characters who aren't members of the family? The mother's boyfriend is definitely in the villain role, though he's not actually a horrible person. He's mostly there to speed the plot along and to be a foil to the father. I find it interesting that when we learn the boyfriend works on Wall Street, we get a hint that the father's old job was there, too.

And when the boyfriend shows up at the father's new place of work, well . . .

If you've seen the movie, you're already giggling

Or maybe you're not. =P Now, I'll admit that the first time I saw All I Want for Christmas, back in the early 90s, I felt a little sorry for the boyfriend. Then I realised that what the children do to him is almost exactly what another brother and sister do to the villain in a well-loved faerie tale . . . and I found myself on their side at last.

8. Then there is the character of Santa Claus, who is there for the sake of being there. And for magical realism, I guess.

You'll never guess which actor is playing Santa!

Taking both "Christ" and "Mass" out of Christmas has done the Santa Claus cultural play no favours. Without them, anyone can say anything about Santa, and all of it can be equally true. In All I Want for Christmas, you can ask Santa not just for toys but also for smoother interpersonal relationships. But he will only help you if you also help yourself. At the end of your labours, you will know you've done well if receive from him a magical sign. (Cue the "ooohs" and "aaahs.") It would be nice mythology if it could hold any water; but even in the bubble of this movie, it doesn't.

7. But you'll be able to figure out Santa long before you figure out Olivia. Even IMDb.com posters don't know what this character is supposed to be doing in the movie!

6. Finally, there is teenage Ethan's first crush, who could possibly be a member of the family someday. (It's a good thing that she already likes the diner. LOL!) At first glance, her only purpose seems to be to keep the teens in the audience interested. But she also plays an important part in the O'Fallon children's plan . . . and there's a subtle hint that she has already suffered from her own parents' divorce . . . so she manages to fit.

5. Watching this again as an adult, I liked spotting those little clues in the dialogue that showed that the writers had a big picture in mind and the skill to distill it into a few well-placed words. Take the scene in which some boys whom Ethan knows from school see him taking Hallie to see Santa Claus and tease him about being one of Santa's elves. Ethan retorts, "Yeah, that's right: I'm an elf. I'm the elf king." (You tell them, Ethan!) Given what he does later on in the movie to make his sister's Christmas wish come true, this is great foreshadowing!

By the way, if you like non-Santa characters who put "official" Santas to shame,
you might also enjoy my post on Early Edition Season 1 Episode 11.

4. On the other hand, I wasn't crazy about the stuff that seems to have been thrown in only because some adult thought that it was what children find funny. Like the opening sequence with the boys' choir. Boys probably would be goofing off in that scenario, but it's just silly that one of them keeps his Walkman on when he knows he's supposed to be singing, while another chooses to show off a lads' mag when the priest choir master is directly across from him.

Then again . . . I probably did find this stuff funny as a child. =P I can't remember!

3. Christmas in New York may not be as magical as the movies make it seem, but when the real-life locations are so wonderful and the sets are so great, I just want to lean back and enjoy the illusion. (And it is double the illusion for All I Want for Christmas, since this movie was shot in Los Angeles, on a backlot, in the summer!) I do feel sad, however, that the one set I have a problem with happens to be the most meaningful one: the diner.

Surely the 1950s didn't look so depressing!

I looked up images for a "1950s diner" just to be sure, and unless the Ministry of Truth did a great job on the results page, back then a diner wasn't a diner without a generous splash of red. For neutrals, not the beige, brown, and grey that we see in the movie, but bold black and white. And occasionally, some pink and mint green as well. The actors try their best to pretend that this emperor has amazing clothes, but it's not enough to carry the set through . . . especially when you remember the theme of family legacy.

2. But the main source of magic lies beyond the silly Santa Claus and the cliches of the New York setting, in the complicated scheme that Ethan and Hallie cook up to reunite their parents--or rather, in the way that they manage to pull it off. If you've ever tried to pull the wool over your parents' eyes (for an equally good cause, I hope!), then you understand this. If you also succeeded, thanks to some really lucky coincidences, then your understanding is perfect.

1. All I Want for Christmas is a mixed package. The script blends its bromides with some real heart . . . but the direction feels mediocre in ways that I can't explain. The actors' great performances in what is essentially a B-movie make me suspect that they believed it would turn out to be a well-loved holiday classic . . . but its fan base has barely grown beyond people who lived through the late 80s and early 90s. (Ahem!) And then there are those sets. =P

On the whole, however, I enjoyed watching it this Christmas just as much as I did back in 1991 and wouldn't mind squeezing it back into the schedule for Christmas 2015.

Image Source: All I Want for Christmas poster, b) Santa Claus


Jenny said...

I can only vaguely remember this movie. I love reading your very detailed thoughts on movies,though. Since I'm trying to get back into this reading\blogging thing again I hope to poke around more often.

Enbrethiliel said...


I like it when I only vaguely remember a movie, because when I watch it again, the memories run into the new discoveries like watercolours. =)

Let's hope that 2015 turns out to be a good year of blogging for you!

Sheila said...

Oh, I've seen some very drab 50's diners. Of course they don't always come with labels, so maybe some of those were sixties diners. The sixties and seventies were terrible for interior decorating.

Home Alone is so popular that during our three nights at hotels this Christmas, it was shown on TV twice! And it IS a hilarious movie. That kid is just so inventive. Haven't seen this one though.

Enbrethiliel said...


Fair enough about the diners from different decades. I've only seen reproductions of 50s diners around here, because they're the most popular. (Even more popular than what Filipinos should properly be nostalgic for: the pre-war restaurants which mixed Art Deco with local materials, like rattan and bamboo. =P)

I didn't watch Home Alone this Christmas, but it has held up every year that I've seen it again!