This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!
Growing up I didn’t watch much television. And by that, I mean I didn’t watch any TV outside of a couple episodes here or there of Gossip Girl and Gilmore Girls in high school. All of my media consumption growing up consisted of books. So. Many. Books. Every Sunday after church, my mom would take my sisters and me to the library or Barnes & Noble (my holy place) to pick out books that she would approve of. So yeah, sheltered childhood.
It took me some time to realize that “My First Queer” wasn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as I’d expected it to be, but rather two sets of books, both set in the 19th century, Little Women and the Gemma Doyle Trilogy.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott contains absolutely zero queer characters. I just thought I’d say that upfront. In fact, the four March sisters of the story are encouraged to grow into the eponymous ‘little women’ of moral standing. The sisters each face their own setbacks and struggle against society as “high-spirited girls,” but none more so than the lead character – Jo March.
Jo marches to the beat of her own drum (yes pun intended). She is everything I always wanted to be as a little girl reading by flashlight at night. She is a writer who fights for her right to be viewed as worthy. Her stories are ones of adventure.
So where does the queer come in? Stick with me here for a minute. In Little Women, Jo has a best friend named Laurie – the boy next door. In a conventional story, Jo would’ve ended up with Laurie. They were perfect together, right? Best friends since childhood who cared deeply for each other. When Laurie proposed, however, Jo turned him down. She saw their relationship clearly – they were always meant to be friends, but they would be at each other’s throats their whole lives if they got married. And besides, she loved him like a brother – why couldn’t he love her like a sister?
Here it is! This is the queer! When I first read Little Women, this was the relationship that struck me most. The main character didn’t have to end up with the boy she should! They were able to be just friends, and that was okay. Sure, there were repercussions, such as Laurie marrying Jo’s sister Amy (which I never forgave him for), but Jo didn’t have to marry a man and have the life she never wanted! After spurning Laurie’s proposal, Jo moved to the city where she was able to express herself and be free! We’re going to pretend the part where she actually does get married, and to a man, though because Alcott herself supposedly only wrote that in to appeal to her audiences. Alcott herself never married.
So maybe Little Women didn’t have any explicitly queer representation, and others may never have felt what I did about it, but it was my first experience reading something and seeing that things could be different. That the fairytale can be about getting published and living for oneself and not marrying the boy next door.
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy
When I was in late middle school and early high school I was obsessed with historical fiction (still am) as well as fantasy (yep, still guilty), so the Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray was a no-brainer for me.
The series follows the eponymous Gemma Doyle, a sixteen-year-old girl living in India in the late 19th century who, after the death of her mother, is sent to boarding school in England where she learns that the visions she’s been having point to her being part of a society of magical women. Boarding school witches? Sign me the f* up!
Throughout the series, we get to know Gemma and her three best friends: Anne, Pippa, and Felicity. They each had qualities I saw in myself, but it was Felicity who I kept being drawn to. Felicity was the leader of the girls. She was a huntress who wanted nothing more than to earn her inheritance, so she could live a life of luxury on her own. Her dream always sounded a bit lonely to me, until I understood that she wanted Pippa to join her. Pippa, however, had dreams of being swept off her feet by a prince. Both their dreams were dashed when Pippa died.
My heart ached for Felicity. Her best friend – the only person she truly loved and cared for was dead. Through a series of events, the girls were still able to see Pippa in the magic realms, but she had changed, there was an evil brimming beneath the surface of her porcelain skin.
As a reader, it was easy to tell that Pippa could not be trusted, but Felicity refused to believe that “her Pip” was really gone. For two whole books, Felicity defended Pippa at every turn. Felicity’s dedication made me want to forget all about Pippa’s darkness. Anne and Gemma could not understand Felicity’s dedication, but I was torn. I knew that Felicity wasn’t seeing things clearly, but somewhere inside me, I could tell there was something about their relationship that earned that dedication.
Then, it came. The lines that changed me:
“My whole life I’ve been ordered about. Now I shall give the orders.”
I’ve never seen Felicity so wounded. “Not me,” she says. “I never ordered you about.”
The old Pippa surfaces for just a moment, hopeful and childlike. She pulls Felicity to her. Something I cannot name passes between them, and then Pip’s lips are on Fee’s in a deep kiss, as if they feed on one another, their fingers entwined in each other’s hair. And suddenly, I understand what I must have always known about them—the private talks, the close embraces, the tenderness of their friendship. A blush spreads across my neck at the thought. How could I not have seen it before?” – The Sweet Far Thing
My reaction was nearly identical to Gemma’s. Of course, they had been more than just friends. Why hadn’t I seen that? It was, of course, because I had never really known that that was a possibility. And here it was, right in front of me. Two girls dedicated to each other, in love. And what was wrong with that was not that they were two girls, but that one of them was slowly turning into an evil creature.
They didn’t have their happily ever after, but they got me thinking that maybe a girl like me could too. Sometimes what you want is a knight in shining armor, but the best girlfriend can be that knight. Just like Felicity was for Pippa.
It strikes me that my most formative “first queer” experiences were subtle – one not even explicitly queer and the other a sub-plot in a trilogy. Looking at all the representation beginning to pop-up all over the place though, I have hope that other little girls don’t have to wait until high school to read a scene with two girls kissing.
Maybe several years down the road people won’t even remember their “first queer,” but I’m okay with knowing that mine come in the form of books that I still cherish and reread to this day.
Images Courtesy of Penguin Random House, LLC
‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Is a Post Mortem for J.K. Rowling
A side note before we get started, this review will contain spoilers. If finding out that so and so might be such and such, or that a great all-powerful whatchamacallit is actually a McGuffin, might ruin the whole thing for you, then please wait until after you’ve seen the movie.
Fair? Okay then.
Part of my job as a critic is to try and figure out who might be the intended audience for the movie I’m watching. If it is for die-hard fans than I can judge it appropriately and vice versa; if it seems intended for a wider audience. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who in the hell Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is for.
The Crimes of Grindelwald, not only has no audience, but it also has no clue either. I wasn’t a fan of the first Fantastic Beasts either, and normally that would give me some kind of guideline in which to proceed. “If you liked the first one then you’ll love this one…” But I’m not so sure that’s the case. J.K. Rowling wrote the script, and she seems hell-bent on ignoring the last decade or so worth of writing that she’s done just to perpetuate the forward march of this cynical cash grab of a cinematic eyesore.
For the uninitiated, and thus explaining why you heedlessly jump past the spoiler warning, The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place a scant three months after the first Fantastic Beasts. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the author of the titular text so beloved by Potter fans, is asked by the Ministry of Magic to help fight the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The actual crimes of The Crimes of Grindelwald buggers the mind as to where to begin.
Midway through the second movie in the franchise and I’m still at a loss as to why I’m supposed to care about Newt. He’s hardly a character and as played by Redmayne, more a mess of jitters and jumps. It’s not entirely Redmayne’s fault; Newt only feels half-formed. It’s as if Rowling is making it up as she goes along.
Grindelwald is essentially wizard-Hitler who views non-magic beings as beneath the master– I mean rightful power, wizards. A timely idea, to be sure, but Rowling seems hesitant to really do anything with it. Grindelwald has his assistant kill a baby, off-screen, as he walks away. He sweet talks people into joining his crusade without actually convincing anybody either through magic or basic rhetoric.
David Yates, who directed the last Fantastic Beasts, as well as the last four Harry Potter films, seems more at a loss at Rowling’s patchwork script than we are. Characters behave and say things that make sense but then they do things that should make sense but don’t actually make any kind of sense. Watching The Crimes of Grindelwald, I found myself understanding what the intent was but also noticing they had skipped all the steps to get there.
The best part of the last movie was far and away the characters of Jacob Kolwalski (Dan Folger) and Queenie (Alison Sudol). Queenie is the sister of Tina (Katherine Waterhouse), Newt’s crush from the last movie. Queenie and Jacob had a bizarre but quirky chemistry. The two were the only charm in an otherwise charmless movie.
Rowling and Yates have Jacob and Queenie come to London to visit Newt. Upon seeing them, Newt discovers that Jacob is under a love spell that Queenie put on him. Good thing Newt figured it out because the two were engaged to be married. Pity poor Jacob only found about the engagement after Newt lifted the spell. Jacob and Queenie both want to get married but Jacob understands the Ministry would forbid it, while Queenie seems baffled by Jacob’s reluctance.
All of this is fine, although odd. You would think the wizard would be the one who would have to fight off the No-Maj but we’re looking over that quibble. We’ll also overlook the incredibly creepy implications of Queenie’s total disregard for consent as well. But what we will look at is Queenie’s defection to the Aryan metaphor that is Grindelwald’s army.
It doesn’t make any sense. Well, it does, but it doesn’t really. You see, Queenie comes to believe that Grindelwald doesn’t want to hurt the No-Maj. He just sees them as beasts of burden. Since he wants to do away with the old ways, which forbid Jacob and her getting married, she ‘s all aboard the allegorical genocide train. But I had to infer that because it’s never really discussed. Switching from “No” on a fascist regime that believes in separate but equal to an “eh, maybe” requires more than a, “But he’ll let us get hitched, baby!” (Not an actual quote.)
We can see what Yates and Rowling are trying to do. But there’s never any real moment where we go, “Ah. I see why she’s doing this.” Instead, we’re left scratching our heads wondering if being the sweetest woman in the franchise means you’re destined to become an acolyte of some dapper, hipster wannabe, slurring Hitler.
Queenie’s “decision” is only a subplot. A large portion of The Crimes of Grindelwald concerns itself with a mystery that isn’t really a mystery. A mystery has clues and is about plodding toward a reveal of some sort. The mystery here is who is Creedence’s (Ezra Miller), real parents? I’m just kidding the real mystery is what happened to Leta Lestrange’s (Zoe Kravitz) little brother? I see you fell for my funny little joke, the real mystery is what is Grindelwald’s master plan for Creedence?
The beauty of Rowling’s script is that of none of those mysteries are remotely tied to one another. And oh yes, Creedence is Aurealis Dumbledore. Lost? I regret to inform you that seeing The Crimes of Grindelwald will only make you more lost.
Creedence looking for his parents is the drive but has no payoff until the last line of the movie. Except it’s not a revelation so much as a moment of bad fan fiction by someone who didn’t read the books. But since it’s written by the author of the original books it becomes all the more confusing. It would be one thing if The Crimes of Grindelwald had offered its own explanation, either explaining how this is possible or at the very least re-write its own backstory. None of that happens. Grindelwald just grabs Creedence by the shoulder and tells him his name, even though the movie itself never backs up this claim.
Leta’s tortured past and guilt over murdering her little brother somehow makes even less sense. We spend half the movie being intentionally and obviously kept in the dark about Leta’s “tragic backstory.” At the climactic moment, Leta reveals all in a baffling denouement. A denouement that includes kidnapping, familial revenge, hypnotism, baby switching, possible rape, spousal slavery, and the Titanic. Suffice to say it raises more questions than it answers. However, Kravitz’s breathless delivery of Rowling’s blindfolded style of plot structure is a gem of a performance in a movie filled with fool’s gold.
But what about Leta’s past with Newt? Why is she marrying Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner) when in the flashbacks she seems taken with Newt? Why do Newt and Theseus have such an antagonistic relationship? If you want answers to these questions, I can’t help you and neither can Rowling or Yates.
Which brings us to Depp. I have no problem believing that Depp is capable of allegedly committing heinous acts and then convincing his large and dedicated fanbase that he did nothing wrong. I dare say, Depp is better at this than Grindelwald is. If only because Depp doesn’t walk around advertising with every fashion choice, every mannerism, and every syllable, “I’m evil!”
Grindelwald convinces his followers to come to his cause by showing them images from the future, the second World War. He conveniently leaves out the six million murdered, and in their place shows aerial assaults, tanks, gunfire, armies marching, and the atom bomb exploding. Now, in the historical context, this is a nightmarish vision. Jacob even yells out, “Not another war!” The first World War is still fresh in their minds, images of another even greater war would be shocking.
It makes sense. But no one ever mentions the last world war so it seems out of left field, nazi allegory aside. It further demonstrates how superficially committed to the metaphor Yates and Rowlings are. They want the bad wizards to be a stand-in for nazis. Except they don’t want to do the legwork to put them in the fake historical context. For a spin-off of a franchise infamous for its world building the world seems hardly even thought of.
Yates is a perfectly fine director but he has no imagination and no personality. Even Dumbledore (Jude Law) a character outed for being gay after the fact, becomes tiresome and boring in his hands. I wouldn’t say that Yates and Rowling straightwash him, but they never say he’s gay either. Yates supplements actually uttering the word “gay” by showing us CGI images of young Grindelwald and young Dumbledore looking into each other’s eyes longingly as they make a pact.
“You two were like brothers.” One character says. “We were more than brothers.” (Actual quote.) More than brothers! Wowza!
The special effects are as good as you would expect from a multibillion-dollar franchise. But good special effects in a movie with no real direction is meaningless. The effects have no real impact because the story and characters have no real impact. The battle at the end as Grindelwald flees victoriously, his grand army now assembled, is a dazzling light show, but nothing more.
Phillip Rousselot is shackled by Fantastic Beasts misguided marriage to drab and dreary color schemes. Rousselot, who when working with Tim Burton, fills his frame with vibrant colors. A cinematographer who’s been working since the 70’s, Rousselot has shot such exquisite movies as A River Runs Through It, Dangerous Liaisons, and Interview With a Vampire. I mention his resume to show you just how woefully underused his camera work is. Imagine the possibilities of a Fantastic Beasts movie where the camera does more than just merely record whatever the special effects team can dream up based on Rowling’s say so?
The Crimes of Grindelwald is a bad movie. It is incompetently made by people who know better. They have decided to try and pawn off a knowingly inferior product on us for a few extra dollars that none of them need. This isn’t a movie, it’s a pyramid scheme. See this and the next one will be better, we swear.
It would be a pity to end this franchise with wizard-Hitler getting away and basically winning. But, I have zero desire to sit through another one of these. I don’t care to see him defeated, nor do I care how he is beaten. If it means having to sit through J.K. Rowling carve up her own world, changing things as she goes because the times have changed and so have the trends, then count me out. I don’t care anymore.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios
Archie Goes Full Dufresne On Riverdale
After last week’s exciting change of pace, Archie and the gang return to the present time in “Chapter Forty: The Great Escape” and boy, is it a drag (no, not the fun kind).
As Archie’s brilliant escape plan to run in the middle of the day, in plain sight of the guards and other prisoners, is failing miserably, we’re back at the bunker, with Betty catching Jughead and the Serpents playing G&G.
Betty tells Jug everything she’s learned from her mother, while Jughead shares his own discoveries about the game. He insists that G&G somehow reflect the real life, Riverdale’s life specifically. Betty is skeptical, so she decides to deal with feasible suspects aka the Midnight Club for now, while Jughead continues playing in order to get to the Gargoyle King his own way.
After Hiram lets Veronica know about Archie’s unsuccessful escape attempt, she decides to take the matters into her own hands. Through her connections in the, um, teenage filial of the local mafia she unknowingly gets herself invited to the warden’s little fight club. She gets a little private time with Archie and they sorta figure out a possible way to break Archie out.
Meanwhile, Betty recruits Josie, Kevin, and Reggie to discreetly question their parents about the Midnight Club. To their kids’ surprise, Mayor McCoy and ex-Sheriff Keller deny even really knowing each other back in high school, let alone dating, while Reggie gets a black eye for even mentioning G&G to his dad.
Unfortunately, the investigation has to be cut short when Veronica comes to all of her friends for help in getting Archie out of juvie. Betty tries to get Jughead on board, but he’s so cut up in a game that he sees the juvie break as nothing more than a great idea for the Serpents’ next G&G mission.
Speaking of juvie, Archie is granted a fancy meal with the warden, who informs Archiekins it’s also gonna be his last one. “The final meal before the final fight”, he says. Warden Norton also all but says outright its’ Hiram’s order. Archie takes a chance asks to hear how Hiram managed to set him up, and warden complies. When asked if Hiram also “owns” him, warden declares his soul “belongs to no mere mortal”, probably alluding to God… Or someone else.
Back at the speakeasy, Veronica lays out her elaborate escape plan for Archie. Basically, they go in undercover to the fight club, create a diversion with self-created smoke bombs (… I know), Archie escapes through the sewer drain, at the end of which Betty will be waiting for him on the Jug’s motorcycle (that she drives impeccably now, apparently).
Right before Archie starts his final match, he gets stabbed by Joaquin. The latter immediately apologizes and insists the warden said this is the only way he can “ascend”.
It’s game time! Literally and metaphorically. While the gang executes their rescue mission, Jughead and the Serpents are on a G&G quest of their own, that coincidentally mirrors everything the other team is doing. While trying to open the sewer drain grade, Kevin sees Joaquin running for his life through the woods. Kevin decides to follow him and leaves his task to Betty.
Back at the fight club, Archie is up for his match. And his opponent is no other than Mad Dog. Archie tells him about the escape plan, but it seems like Mad Dog has accepted his fate.
Veronica runs into her father at the fight club, but before he can do anything to stop them she, Reggie, and Josie are setting the pan in motion. Their
very slow distraction works and Archie jumps into the drain, while Mad Dog heroically holds off the guards.
At the end of the sewer, Betty meets injured Archie. They race on a bike through the woods to safety, but unfortunately, get caught by the warden and the juvie guards. But PLOT TWIST! It isn’t Archie up on a bike, it’s Kevin. They were a decoy for the guards, while Ronnie and the rest of the crew got Archie to safety at the bunker, where Jughead and the Serpents also just finished their G&G quest.
Tony patches up Archie’s stab wound, and the gang notices the warden has branded Archie with a symbol, similar to those on Ben and Dilton’s backs.
Back at the Lodges, Hermione is going off on Hiram for participating in the underground teen fight club as if she, as a mayor, doesn’t have enough problem to deal with. Veronica arrives just in time for some ass whooping as well.
At Pop’s, Kevin tells Josie and Reggie that he didn’t find Joaquin after all, all while the news of Archie’s escape is heard on the radio. The triple also decides to play G&G by themselves, to find out what their parents, and Betty, don’t tell them about the game.
While watching over Archie at the bunker, Betty and Jug discuss how warden Norton fits into this whole G&G narrative. In the meantime, the warden himself is at his office, getting notified the mayor is here to see him. But unfortunately, they’ll have to reschedule, because the warden just drank the good ol’ cyanide-infused Fresh-Aid.
The episode concludes with Jughead getting back home from the bunker when he finally encounters the Gargoyle King himself.
I honestly don’t have a lot on this one. The episode revolves solely around juvie plot and we all know how I feel about it. The escape sequence is extremely silly, but sticking with Riverdale for so long, nothing fazes me anymore.
My favourite scene was probably Hermione cussing out her dumbass family. Marisol Nichols did some amazing acting, and it was just so pleasant seeing Hermione to blow up like this. In Season 2 her character felt very Stepford wife (but make it mafia), so it’s great to see her getting some of that agency and character back.
The theory that someone of the Lodges is the Gamemaster behind this G&G madness grows stronger this episode. Killing the Red Paladin aka Archie was obviously a part of Warden Norton’s quest, and we know from the warden himself Hiram ordered to get rid of Archie. Or was the warden lying? Also interesting how Hermione was at the juvie when Norton ended his life. Could be nothing, could be something.
Next week, Archie is fugitive on the run, while Jughead discovers a new piece of the G&G puzzle…
Images courtesy of CW
The Five Under Discussed Holiday Movies
It’s that time of year again. The time of year where people with ordinary jobs find themselves swamped with hours and little to no respite for their own sanity’s sake. It’s also time for a return to that age-old tradition we have here at BENEATH THE SCREEN OF THE ULTRA-CRITICS, the listicle.
Since we’re only mere days away from being positively bombarded with the stuff, we figured, why not beat everybody to the punch. Enjoying the leftover Halloween candy, we compiled a list of five under-discussed Christmas movies. These are movies that are more likely to be seen in something like Alonso Duralde’s Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas than the average Buzzfeed article.
So, without further ado, here are five Holiday movies that somehow always fly under the radar come this time of the year. As usual, the numbers mean nothing, except to state how many they are.
1. GREMLINS (1984) Dir. Joe Dante
Somehow or other people always forget Gremlins. I’m not saying it’s a forgotten classic. YouTube film buffs are too prevalent, to allow such a thing like that to happen. But Joe Dante’s cult classic doesn’t get the love of say Die Hard when it comes to the holidays.
The special effects still hold up but more than that, Gremlins has a wonderful sense of playfulness and good cheer about it. The problematic ancient Chinese wise man aside, Gremlins holds up remarkably well. Horror movies are usually aimed at adults but Gremlins aims at the whole family. Through all the blood and screams it somehow captures the feel of a small town at Christmas.
But the creme de la creme comes in the form of what is now viewed as one of the great monologues of the eighties. Phoebe Cate’s Kate tells a dark tragic Christmas story that haunted children years after seeing the film. Dante’s tongue in cheek direction and a script by a young Christopher Columbus that’s a sly subversion of the holidays elevates Gremlins from a goofy cult film to a holiday classic.
2. A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) Dir. Richard Schenkman
Look. Someone needs to acknowledge that Vanessa Williams is our Christmas Lord and Savior, and guess what? It’s sure as shit gonna be me! Williams has been criminally underrated for years, and as much as I’ve held my peace about it, I cannot allow her being perpetually overlooked for A Diva’s Christmas Carol anymore. This movie is from the height of VH1’s (are they even around anymore?) media career, and it’s the perfect lady Christmas film to kick back, grab some hot chocolate, and enjoy. Camp? Check. The best melodrama crafted biopic prior to Walk Hard? Check. It gleefully embraces every biopic trope and rolls it up in a familiar Christmas package.
Keep your Bill Murray and Scrooged, I’ll take the Beyonce of Christmas movies any day.
3. Christmas Again (2014) Dir. Charles Pokel
Charles Pokel’s Christmas Again is possibly the least cheerful of all the films on this list. Less a reminder of the reason for the season and more a dour melancholy look at a man looking for love whilst selling Christmas trees. But underneath it all, it has a great big heart.
Noel (Kentucky Audley) is broken-hearted and adrift. Like any person, he soothes his soul by running a Christmas tree lot. He meets Lydia (Hannah Gross) and soon the two find themselves falling for each other. Complications and revelations arise but ultimately Pokel’s nuanced and sweet exploration of working-class people during the holiday season is warm and deeply moving.
Pokel gives us a peek into the ins and outs of running a Christmas tree lot, the differences of sales technique, understanding the varying types of firs, inventory, and of course, the people. Nothing much happens and, if you’re looking for Christmas magic, you’ll be disappointed. But it’s a sweet little movie that normally glides under the radar of the average Christmas aficionado.
Bonus: The song that plays over the closing credits, a cover of Christmas Everywhere sung by Fran Alexandre, will instantly become one of your favorite carols of the year.
4. Edward’s Scissorhands (2005) Dir. Tim Burton
Most people would cite Burton’s other movie The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a Burton produced movie, not a Burton-directed one. We disagree, though the visual design of Nightmare is classic and loving crafted. But Burton’s Edward Scissorhands has a haunting, loving way about it that leaves one breathless from the depth of empathy and imagination from which it sprang.
On its face the story of Edward (Johnny Depp), a Frankensteinesque creation with scissors for hands is preposterous. Yet, Burton and Caroline Wilson, the screenwriter, have us buy the entire premise hook, line, and sinker within seconds. Burton has always been attracted to stories about outsiders, but few have been as lonely and misunderstood quite like Depp’s Edward. Winona Ryder’s Kim, Edward’s love interest, is no less an outsider, and the two find solace in each other.
It’s the tender ache at the center of Edward Scissorhands which sets it apart from the rest of Burton’s filmography. Oh sure, all his films have a tenderness and a loneliness, but none of them have had Deep and Ryder. Ryder for her part is the reason why Edward Scissorhands works. If we don’t buy Kim’s feelings for Edward, then the whole thing falls apart. Burton and Wilson don’t use Christmas as a backdrop to clash with the goth aesthetic Burton fetishizes. They use it as a way to explore family dynamics and more importantly, the idea of loving a stranger and giving him a home.
5. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) Dir. John R. Cherry III
Jim Varney’s Ernest P. Worrell has never gotten the credit he deserves as a singular American comedic creation. A cross between Jerry Lewis and a southern Mr. Bean, Ernest is a man so eager to please he can never see how insufferable he is. Ernest Saves Christmas is both a satire of how corporatist and consumer-driven Christmas is while magically somehow finding heart and warmth in the cold harsh cynical decade known as the eighties.
Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) comes to L.A. to find a children’s show host Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) so he can pass on the mantle of Santa. Unfortunately for Santa, Ernest is his taxi driver. An old man Santa leaves his bag of magic in Ernest’s cab and Ernest must try to return it so Santa can pas the bag onto Joe and Christmas can continue. Along the way, Ernest and Santa meet a young runaway grifter Harmony Starr (Noelle Parker). The three have to get Santa’s bag to Joe so they can make him believe. The plot sounds thin but, believe us, the last scene where Ernest is flying Santa’s sleigh as he careens out of control is like mother’s milk to a child.
With jokes like Joe taking a new job as an actor in a horror film Santa’s Slay, Ernest Saves Christmas shows itself to have a sardonic eye. Miraculously, it never veers into made for Hallmark Christmas territory, though it is corny at times. But that’s to be expected with any Christmas movie, much less an Ernest one. Imaginative while at times surreal, such as when the reindeer get stuck in customs, Ernest Saves Christmas is a classic that’s never been embraced by cult fans or Christmas fans. The film has a gonzo humor most Christmas films avoid; making it kind of prickly in places. If not for Varney’s rubber-faced exuberance somehow winning us over, the film might have collapsed under its own weight.
A Christmas movie in L.A.? And it’s not a Shane Black movie? It’s a Christmas miracle.