Christmas with the Kranks (review)

Have a Merry Brainwashing

How’s this for a “hare-brained scheme”? You’re an upper-middle-class middle-aged man, still madly in love with your wife after decades together, and on the first Christmas after your now-grown daughter has flown the coop, you figure: Hey, maybe me and the little lady should skip the insanity of the holidays this year and treat ourselves to something special, like maybe a cruise of the islands.

Ker-razy, ain’t it?
But that’s what the little lady screams at hubby — calls it “your hare-brained scheme!” — when the plan, to which she initially agreed, comes under fire from the neighbors. That’s right: The neighbors get to veto the private vacation plans of two legal adults who exhibit no indication of a lack of mental competence.

Oh, it’s meant to be a comedy, this Christmas with the Kranks thing, but it’s really rather chilling, an unintentional Orwellian object lesson in what happens when you deviate from the groupthink. One simply does not withdraw from Christmas in this suburban Chicago development — everyone puts the hideous scary snowman on their roof; everyone drapes their house in thousands of oil-sucking strings of lights; everyone goes to the Kranks’ annual Christmas Eve party. “What are we going to do on Christmas Eve?!” whine two harpy neighbor ladies when they learn the Kranks plan to skip it all this year. Skipping Christmas sounds like a great idea, if all the people they’d be spending it with are this awful. And it does indeed seem to be the case: to a one, this conformist, white-bread, thoroughly self-centered bunch turn on the Kranks with a vile nastiness that borders on criminal harassment. God knows what they’d do if Jews or Buddhists or Muslims moved into the neighborhood, although, perhaps that’s already happened. Perhaps in the unproduced prequel, Christmas with the Nahasapeemapetilons, the new Hindi family in town was browbeaten into making merry, and sugarplums were forcibly danced through their heads.

But then it gets worse than even this suburban horror. The usually charming-in-that-everyman-way Tim Allen (Santa Clause 2, Big Trouble), as Luther Krank, starts behaving, out of the blue, like a complete nitwit, getting an orange salon pre-cruise tan and, inexplicably, Botox injections that result in perhaps the most incongruous “joke” in the film, one that involves him being unable to hold food or drink in his mouth, resulting in infantile drooling. This is the point, perhaps, where our sympathies are meant to shift away from Luther, when we’re supposed to start seeing him as the “spoiled selfish little baby” his wife, Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis: Freaky Friday, Halloween, sadly shrill and unpleasant in a way she’s never been before), thinks he’s become. Cripes: her husband wants to whisk her away on a romantic Caribbean jaunt, and he’s selfish? Give me a husband like that.

My considerate and generous hubby and I wouldn’t be able to live in this upscale, Pottery Barn-chic gulag, however, because not only are people here punished for such heresy as voluntarily withdrawing from the rampant consumerism and neighborhood oneupsmanship of Christmas, but — just as Winston Smith had to be tortured into welcoming his own brainwashing — Luther will be rounded spanked for defying the norm and he’ll learn to like his new, compliant, lock-stepping self, too. He’ll discover just how neighborly and friendly and giving his comrades can be… as long as he does precisely what they want him to do.

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