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Read Phil's review of Christmas with the Kranks.

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John Grisham Skips Christmas

By Phil Boatwright
The Movie Reporter - When novelist John Grisham, renown for thrillers (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client), had one of his biggest successes a couple of years back with the humorous Skipping Christmas, Hollywood once again came to call. The writer was paid due respect by placing his book in the professional hands of those familiar with all things X-Mas. Yes, X-Mas, because this holiday-themed comic read pokes fun at the commercialization of December 25th yet manages to forgo any acknowledgement of whose birthday the observance was designed to celebrate.

The film’s director, Joe Roth (founder of Revolution Studios, which produced Black Hawk Down, and director of American’s Sweethearts), has the true meaning of Hollywood Christmas in his blood. “It’s very much a story about Christmas as a unifying time of year. It’s about friends, family and community.”

“I see this as a family Christmas comedy. But it also satirizes the greed and commercialism of Christmas,” said Christopher Columbus (Home Alone & Home Alone 2, Only the Lonely, Mrs. Doubfire), who, besides producing, took on the screenplay duties for Christmas With The Kranks. “There’s an underside to the happy faces and festivities of the season.

“Our lead character, Luther Krank, is a selfish man. There’s a lot of that going around. But sometimes selfish people learn the truism, ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ It’s not until Luther gives up what he wants most for Christmas that he gains the true satisfaction of the holiday.”

“Luther has to hit bottom first before he has his moment of clarity,” says Luther Krank, himself, Tim Allen. Allen is becoming the king of Christmas films, having already played Jolly Old St. Nick in two successful comedies (The Santa Clause & The Santa Clause 2). “There wasn’t any planned strategy concerning me and Christmas movies. I loved the script, loved the idea of working with Chris Columbus, Joe (Roth) and Jamie Lee Curtis, there was a good opening in my schedule, and then there was the money. [Ho, ho, ho.]

“Besides being a farce, it was also a film about something. It knocks fascism and conformity while at the same time saluting community and selflessness,” Allen quickly added.

Ironically, several of the showbiz veterans interviewed for Christmas With the Kranks either felt Christmas was for kids or, like the lead character, intended to skip it altogether. Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Luther’s wife, Nora, informed interviewers that she was boycotting the purchase of presents for adults. “Adults already have enough.” (An observation that could be perceived as one from a grownup seldom passed over by Santa.)

Danny Aykroyd, disgusted with the commercialization of Christmas, was also passing on the purchase of things in order to take his family on a trip to the Orient.

On the other hand, Julie Gonzalo, who plays Luther Krank’s daughter Blair, spoke of the spiritual meaning of the season. Well, somewhat. Her mother, a devote Catholic, considers Christmas Day to be sacred. Open and delightful, Ms. Gonzalo frequently paid homage for her luck in relationships, in timing and in the roles she has been given by repeating, “Thank God.” Without prompting, she even offered, “I have faith. My own faith.”

In the hills of Hollywood, “my own faith” usually signals a New Age freedom that offers spiritual fulfillment without the pesky requirements of commitment.

Sadly, John Grisham, noted for his interview reluctance, did not respond to a list of submitted questions concerning this project. His shyness may be due to the time consumption needed to tolerate often-inane press questions, or he may have simply been unwilling to disclose his personal life.

As Mr. Grisham is reportedly a believer in Christ and a member of a Baptist church, it is disappointing that the celebrated author would not take the opportunity to state what the season represented to him. Since the book and now the film focus on slapstick situations and the homily “it’s about friends, family and community,” it would have at least been satisfying for one of the most successful writers of our time to declare Christmas to be a day we celebrate the birth of our Lord. After all, how successful does an author have to become before he feels comfortable enough in relating his perspective on faith? Considering the film in question has Christmas as its backdrop, it seemed to be an opportunity missed.

Christmas With the Kranks is yet again another entry in the Christmas-themed genre that spotlights the secularation of Christmas. There are some funny bits and a moving ending that keep the images of painted candy canes and frosted window panes alive and well. It’s also a fine moral about the importance of friends and loved ones. No harm in that. After all, didn’t Jesus already have his Passionate theatrical shot at fame this year?

Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter. Review used by permission. Go to Phil Boatwright's website at for details on how to have reviews of new films delivered directly to your e-mail address.

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