Olympic Dreams


Olympic gold.

(2019) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas, Gus Kenworthy, Morgan Schild. Directed by Jeremy Teicher

 

Sometimes, less is more.

Armed with a minimal crew and a largely improvised script (that never feels it), Teicher, co-writer Pappas and a small cast were granted extraordinary access to the Olympic village at the 2018 PyeongChang winter games. While the backstage pass is half the fun here, it is not all of it.

Penelope (Pappas, who was an Olympic runner at the 2016 Rio games in real life) is a cross-country skier on the American team who approaches the opening ceremony of the Games with a mixture of childlike wonder and deer-in-the-headlights fear. Her event will be one of the very first of the games so she doesn’t have a whole lot of time to take it all in. She does her best – gets a personal best time, as a matter of fact, but as is sometimes the case, her best isn’t good enough. She finishes out of the medal competition.

She’s left with a whole lot of time and not much to do. On the other hand, Ezra (Kroll) is a volunteer dentist, an Olympic junkie who has waited for this moment for his entire life. He loves chatting with the athletes and sees that Penelope is a bit down in the dumps, so he approaches her. Eventually the two form a friendship and while both are a bit awkward – Penelope’s training precluded any sort of social life, while Ezra is hampered by a fiancée back at home that he is taking an unwilling break from – they circle each other, unsure of what move to make next.

All this takes place amid the pomp and pageantry of the Games and on “dates” in PyeongChang itself. Teicher, who did most of the filming and sound recording himself, manages to capture a kind of rom-com sweetness that transcends the location which is quite a feat. Kroll and Pappas have real chemistry together and we get a real sense of what Penelope is going through, a kind of “What now?” moment that she doesn’t have an easy answer for. She is alone in a crowded room, not possessed of the self-confidence some of the other athletes have, and her isolation is often palpable. She has no friends and makes tearful calls to her coach at home, exclaiming on what a great time she’s having while it’s clear she is hurting.

Ezra, likewise, is finding it harder than he thought. He is not happy with his life and suspects that his fiancée might not be the right woman for him – he loves to travel and she hates leaving the States. Still, he is not a man who likes to take chances – he’s a dentist fer chrissakes – who yearns to step out of the rut he’s in but is unsure if he has it in him to do so.

In a very real sense they are good for each other, but like most real people they are also bad for each other. The two fight – over his inability to take a chance, over her self-centered devotion to her sport – and one wonders what kind of future the two could possibly have. In addition, there’s an age factor – he’s 37, she’s 22 – which isn’t belabored in the film but is clearly on Ezra’s mind.

The ending kind of gets to a point that you think it’s going to go but it doesn’t get there the way you thought it might. You at times want to shake Ezra and tell him “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? KISS THE GIRL, DAMMIT!” and at the same time you want to shake Penelope and tell him “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? YOU’RE COMING ON TOO STRONG!!” The script does follow kind of a standard rom-com formula and like I said it doesn’t always go about it in the way you’d expect, but those who love this much-abused genre are going to enjoy this. It’s even appropriate that it came out on Valentine’s Day. Not a bad way to spend a cold night with your honey, in front of a TV set with a warm blanket, hot cocoa and this film. There is nothing wrong with having the cockles of your heart warmed, after all.

REASONS TO SEE: There is a lot of charm here.
REASONS TO AVOID: There is also a few rom-com tropes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film that was allowed to shoot in the Olympic village during an Olympic games.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes:63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Cutting Edge
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Beautiful Boy

The Santa Clause


The Santa Clause
You’d better not cry…

(1994) Family (Disney) Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Larry Brandenburg, Mary Gross, Paige Tamada, Peter Boyle, Judith Scott, Jayne Eastwood, Melissa King, Bradley Wentworth, Steve Vinovich. Directed by John Pasquin

 

Belief is a powerful thing. There are those among us who must have the evidence of the senses to believe in something – seeing is believing, after all. It also must be said that one of the most lovely thing about children is their ability to believe whole-heartedly in something without evidence – their innocence augments their faith.

Scott Calvin (Allen) is an executive at a toy company. He is divorced and a bit estranged from his son Charlie (Lloyd). His ex-wife Laura (Crewson) has since re-married to a psychiatrist named Dr. Neil Miler (Reinhold) who is a pretty decent fellow.

Charlie is staying over at Scott’s house for Christmas Eve, with the intention of sending him back to his mom’s for the big day itself. Charlie is beginning to have doubts about the existence of Santa Clause whom Scott tries to re-assure him is real but Scott really doesn’t believe himself so the attempt falls flat. Later that night, they are awakened by a commotion on the roof. When they go out to investigate, Scott startles a man dressed in red on his roof, who then falls to the ground and apparently breaks his neck. The man disappears mysteriously, but when Scott investigates he finds a business card in the pocket of the suit which says that someone needs to put on the suit and that the reindeer would then know what to do.

In order to please Charlie, Scott puts on the suit and ascends to the roof where to his astonishment find eight reindeer and a sleigh. The two of them get into the sleigh and start delivering toys from house to house, with Scott making a rather poor Santa although he is able to magically fit down chimneys or for homes without fireplaces, dryer vents and radiator vents.

The last stop is the North Pole where Scott is greeted by a rather officious elf named Bernard (Krumholtz) who informs Scott that by donning the suit he has activated the Santa Clause which requires him to become Santa. He has until Thanksgiving of the following year to wrap up his affairs, after which he’ll become Santa full time. Charlie is given a snow globe as a gift. The two go to sleep in the North Pole but wake up back at Scott’s house. Scott assumes it was just a crazy dream.

Strange things begin to happen to Scott. He begins to develop an insatiable desire for cookies and hot chocolate and begins to put on an embarrassing amount of weight. He starts growing a long beard which no matter how he tries to shave it off re-appears instantly. His hair turns white. He has an uncanny knack of knowing who is naughty and nice. Kids, unconsciously knowing he’s Santa begin giving him lists of gifts they want.

Neil and Laura, seeing the extent of Scott’s Santa obsession and of Charlie’s increasing insistence that his father is the Santa Claus, become concerned with Charlie’s well-being and seek to terminate Scott’s visitation rights. The petition turns out to be successful and Scott, now determined to be a better father, is devastated.

The events create doubt in Scott that he is the true Santa Clause but while visiting Charlie on Thanksgiving, Charlie’s pleas and faith reawaken the magic and Bernard with Charlie’s help whisk Scott away to the North Pole. Charlie, wanting to be with his father, goes along. Laura and Neil are certain that Charlie has been kidnapped against his will and a police investigation is launched, led by Detective Nunzio (Brandenburg). When Scott tries to deliver presents to Neil’s house on Christmas Eve, Scott is arrested. Can Christmas be saved?

At the time this film was made, Allen was best known for his “Home Improvement” hit series which was then in its third year. The movie increased his star power and led to his casting as Buzz Lightyear shortly thereafter. Two additional Santa Clause movies were also made in the succeeding years.

The movie is inventive and charming and a bit sticky sweet in places. It harkens back to the heyday of Disney live action family movies such as The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Three Lives of Tomasina. The blend of magic and physics makes this entertaining for adults as well as kids and the movie never forgets that while its target audience is children that their parents are going to have to be entertained as well.

Allen is at his best here and would have a solid career in family films for the Mouse House following this. He brings the right mix of cynicism and warm-heartedness to the role and the transformation of Scott as a career-oriented man to a devoted father is believable. The chemistry between him and Lloyd as his son Charlie seems genuine.

While the North Pole operation isn’t as impressive as shown in later films like The Polar Express and Fred Claus it was nifty at the time it was released and still is grand enough to get oohs and aahs from the younger set.

There are no villains in this movie – Neil and Laura act out of genuine concern for Charlie and that’s kind of refreshing. Some Scrooge-like critics grumbled about the custody issues bogging down the plot but quite frankly I disagree. The movie is about the difficulties created by Scott becoming Santa and in that sense the reaction of other adults to Scott’s transformation seems logical and believable to me. Even though there is a certain magic in the North Pole scenes, Scott’s coping with his physical transformation are for me the best scenes in the movie.

This is certainly not the best Christmas movie ever made but it has become a minor holiday classic. It is clever, good fun and essentially harmless. It could have used a little more edge and Santa breaking his neck early on might scar the more sensitive kids for life but other than that this is charming holiday viewing and definitely a movie I don’t mind seeing again and again.

WHY RENT THIS: Clever and heartwarming in places, a worthy addition to Disney’s live action family film tradition. Allen proves he has big screen star power here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little sticky-sweet in places. Somewhat dated at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few moments of crude humor but not so crude that you wouldn’t want your kids to watch.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was originally written with Bill Murray in mind, but he passed. Fellow SNL alumni Chevy Chase was also offered the part but had to decline due to scheduling conflicts. Disney had a strict policy of not hiring ex-cons, but an exception was made in his case for the “Home Improvement” television show which was produced by Disney’s Touchstone arm and Allen went on to make movies not only in the Santa Clause franchise but several other family films as well the Toy Story series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The special edition DVD includes a feature hosted by Wolfgang Puck as he shows you how to make some of Santa’s favorite snacks, and there’s is also an interactive game called “Santa’s Helper.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $189.8M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a franchise-establishing blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill concludes!