How the Grinch Stole Christmas

If Ron Howard was intending to make a family film with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, he has failed miserably. The film is too dark and mean-spirited to appeal to kids under the age of eight-or-so, who will probably be scared by the frightening Grinch costume and his malevolence. It is, however, a great Jim Carrey vehicle and an intriguing interpertation of a timeless story by the inimitable Theodore Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Funny and well-made, though not particularly faithful, this Grinch is more for adults willing to watch a new spin on the story than children who want a film version of the book.

Rumors have been flying that Carrey was nearly suicidal during the shoot because he had to spend 14 hours a day in a sweaty green suit; Hollywood lore has it that the studio brought in a guy who teaches people in the army how to deal with prolonged torture to help Carrey get through it. The effort was worth it, and not only because Carrey got a big fat paycheck; the visual effect is incredible, bound to earn a best make-up nomination. Howard also deserves praise for daring to make the costume so appropriately creepy; this is no sweet, watered-down Grinch for the toddler crowd.

This isn’t to undermine Carrey’s performance which is, as usual, amazing. His face, hidden behind what seems like mountains of green, still shows traces of the Jim Carrey we know; his manner, on the other hand, is completely unrecognizable. Like in all of his films, the virtuoso comic disappears behind his character, only this time he does it literally as well as figuratively. Actors who have to wear elaborate costumes don’t usually win Oscars — many people will, doubtless, see his turn here as nothing more than a gimmick, though they will be wrong — but there are few actors more deserving this year. Comedy is hard.

The Grinch has taken flack in some circles for its eccentric set design, which paints the town of Whoville in dark reds and browns. But the artificial, often slightly unpleasant color scheme highlights the superficiality of the town and its citizens — the flash and pizazz of their Christmas celebration leaves behind the holiday’s true meaning.

The film’s ending, which shows the Grinch and the citizens of Whoville holding hands in a circle and singing a song about the real Christmas can be interperted as kiddie stuff — what adult needs a sermon, after all — but can also serve as a reminder for everyone about what we’re really supposed to be doing this holiday season. I’ll give Ron Howard the benefit of the doubt and assume that he wasn’t the one responsible for the insane slew of movie-connected merchandising that so blatantly contradicts the film’s message.

For the non-Christians among us, I rush to say that The Grinch is decidedly secular. It may as well have been called How the Grinch Stole Hanukkah, because aside from the Christmas trees, the story could have been about any holiday and still worked. There is no mention of the religious aspects of Christmas.

There’s a lot to like in this Grinch. It’s funny, it’s sincere and it’s gloriously bizarre. The fact that it isn’t for families is something we have to accept, although the advertising sure did market it as a kids’ movie. It’s not a kids’ movie, but adults should get a kick out of it.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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