Let me tell you about two of Rotten Tomatoes’ lowest-rated Christmas movies. The fate of both became intertwined through coincidence, due to them sharing similar titles and also being released in the same festive season. 2004’s Surviving Christmas, starring Ben Affleck, was described as “Hard to endure” by one reviewer and a “cringe-inducing display” whereas that same year’s Christmas With The Kranks invoked the ire of Roger Ebert among others. Both currently sit around the 6% mark on RT.
“But they don’t have similar titles” I hear you say. You are of course correct… Except, Kranks was originally entitled Skipping Christmas, after the 2001 John Grisham (yes, that John Grisham) novel. But Surviving Christmas managed to get the jump on Kranks by a whole calendar month and therefore, got to keep the title, with Kranks taking the difficult decision to rename or get confused with another movie.
Along with The Polar Express, these were the only big Christmas releases that season. 2004 was not a good year for festive films.
The basic set up is this: Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) Krank cannot face Christmas at home following their daughter leaving home so they decide to save the money they normally would spend on parties, gifts, food and decorations and book a cruise with it instead. Enter busybody Vic (Dan Aykroyd) who enlists the rest of the neighbourhood to show the Kranks the error of their subversive ways.
I know right?
The moral of this film – that to act out from the crowd is dangerous – is repulsive. The Kranks are painted as villains for daring to think about themselves for a change and the happy ending only comes when they finally accept that conforming is the only way to go. But until that point, the couple
There’s something I like about Christmas With The Kranks. It’s silly, it’s cheesy and it feels like one of those seasonal John Hughes films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles or Home Alone (largely down to its Chicago setting and a script by Chris Columbus). There are some genuinely funny and touching moments thanks to decent performances from Curtis, M. Emmett Walsh, Jake Busey and Erik Per Sullivan (best known as Dewey from Malcolm In The Middle). And of course, Allen delivers the grumpy, stubborn but ultimately put-upon and browbeaten everyman Luther very well. When I read the novel, way before the film was in production, I imagined Charles Grodin in the role, but Allen soon pushed that image out of my head.
And if you like decorations, trees, snow, parties, carolers, and the like it’s very Christmassy – never mind the fact that the baby Jesus is never mentioned (and even Santa is relegated to a sidewalk salesman bit part).
Generally, I tend to avoid the phrase Guilty Pleasure – but if I were to choose one, I think it would be Christmas With The Kranks. It feels wrong to like it, but it’s just so infectious, unlike Surviving Christmas which is just mean-spirited or The Polar Express whose dead eyes still haunt me.
File on the shelf with Deck The Halls, Jingle All The Way and Jack Frost.