Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Put a Little Love In Your Heart

Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Forsythe, Carol Kane
Released: November 23, 1988

Oscar nominations:
Best Makeup (lost to Beetlejuice)

Can you believe I've never seen this movie until now? When I saw it was streaming on Netflix, I knew it was the perfect time to finally watch it. Obviously, from the title, it's a take on A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a not-so-nice guy. Well, he's a complete jerk if we're being honest. Exactly the kind of person who needs to learn some lessons and be redeemed. He's a TV executive and is planning to run a live show of A Christmas Carol (the story is within the story!) on Christmas Eve, thus making his employees work that day. I laughed when they announced the live show because it reminded me of the live shows NBC had with The Sound of Music and Peter Pan and wasn't there one done with Grease? Were there any live show this year? I've never watched any of them. Their stunt casting with this live show is Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. This was four years after she won her gold medal, so would she still be relevant? In the promo, they say, "Presenting Charles Dickens' immortal Christmas classic, Scrooge". But it's not called that! It's called A Christmas Carol! Unless Scrooge is the name they're calling it for this live event? IDK! 

Frank doesn't like the perfectly fine promo for the show and wants something a little more...intense. He thinks they should run an ad where the audience will be "terrified" if they miss it. If I saw the ad he wanted, I would NOT want to watch it! Granted, I still wouldn't want to watch it even with the perfectly fine ad as we've already established I don't much care for live productions on TV. He fires this mousey guy, Elliot (Bobcat Goldthwait), who tells him he shouldn't be running that ad. When his assistant, Grace (Alfre Woodard), is going through a checklist of what he's going to get his employees and family members for Christmas, he either tells her to put them down for a towel or a VCR. He steals a cab from an old woman with a bundle of gifts. He yells at Grace's young son (who hasn't talked in years since his father died five years ago) for running around on the set. In his office he has a sign that says: "Cross: a thing they nail people to." 

After Frank's had a few drinks (of vodka...which he sometimes mixes with Tab, how '80s!), he is visited by his former boss, Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), who also happens to be deceased. He also invented the miniseries! He tells Frank that if he doesn't change his way, he'll end up just like he did and that he should make his life about charity, mercy, and kindness. Franks think he's an hallucination brought on by alcohol and stress. Lew tells him he will be visited by three ghosts and the first one will be expected tomorrow at noon. Frank is not impressed by this at all and tells him that tomorrow is bad for him. 

He (or rather the ghost of his ex-boss) calls his ex-girlfriend, Claire (Karen Allen) and leaves her a message saying he needs to talk to her. I laughed when he says, "Claire! I know it's been... (looks at his watch) ...15 years since we talked, but I really need to talk to you." She comes to visit him the next day on the set when he's getting ready for the live production of Scrooge. You can tell he's pleased that she's single. Because of the hectic set, he doesn't get to talk to her for long and seeing that he's busy, she tells him to call her and walks off. There was a funny running gag where a woman on the set was always getting hurt. When a handyman carrying a prop lamppost over his shoulder turned, she was smacked in the head by it. (The same thing happened to Elisabeth Rohm in A Christmas Kiss. Now I know where they got that from.) A large set piece fell on top of her and a prop barrel was knocked over and rolled towards where she was sitting (with a few casts and bandages!)

During lunch with his boss, it is almost noon and he is reminded that he is supposed to be visited by the first ghost in a few minutes. He keeps hallucinating and thinks one of the waiters is the ghost, but it is a taxi driver who is the Ghost of Christmas Past. So instead of a DeLorean, we have a taxi as a time machine! We see the years on the mileage panel flip back as he takes Frank to several Christmas Eves from his past starting in 1955 when Frank was four years old.  We quickly realize he got his abrasive personality from his father who gives his young son five pounds of veal. When little Frank says he wanted a "choo-choo train", his father tells him to get a job to buy one. We go forward a few years where they see when Frank and Claire meet for the first time. Claire's nickname for him is "Lumpy" and we learn it's because they first met outside a shop when Claire opened the door and smacked Frank right in the head. Then they bump heads again when they both lean over at the same time to pick up something Frank dropped. They became a couple and we see a happier time a few years later when they are celebrating Christmas Eve together and exchanging gifts as "present day" Frank looks on wistfully. It soon becomes clear that Frank chose his job over Claire.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) is a fairy godmother-esque type surrounded by bubbles and glitter who is constantly slapping/hitting/kicking Frank. I found her to be really annoying, but she did have some funny moments. And Frank agrees with me because he tells her, "If you TOUCH me one more time, I'm gonna rip your goddamn wings off!" She takes him to Grace's house where Frank learns that her young son, Calvin, hasn't spoken since his father was killed and Frank didn't even know that his assistant's husband had died. He also realizes that money seems to be tight at this home and she's possibly due for a raise.

She next takes Frank to his brother's house where he's having a small, lively get together with his wife and close friends. Frank has been invited to these Christmas parties before, but never attends them. They are playing a trivia game and I laughed when the Ghost of Christmas Present repeats a question to Frank that was just asked by his brother and Frank says, "I may be invisible, but I'm not deaf!"

There's a funny moment where Frank, back on the Scrooge set, sees the Ghost of Christmas Future, who looks like the Grim Reaper, and he starts freaking out and screams, "He's here for me!" and to let him "have it".  It's only the actor dressed for his part in the live show. He comes across the actual Ghost of Christmas Future and at first he thinks it's just the actor again, but soon finds out it's the real deal. Frank is shown the future and it looks pretty bleak: Grace's son has been institutionalized; Claire has turned into a horrible and selfish person because she took Frank's advice to only look after herself; and then he sees his own funeral in which he is being burned alive in his casket. It gets pretty dark. He is returned to reality and has a whole new perspective on life. Right before he met the Ghost of Christmas Future, he was being shot at by a disgruntled (and very drunk) Eliot, the meek employee he had fired the other day. He tells Eliot he will give his job back with more pay and has him go to the control room with his shotgun and make sure nobody turns off the cameras while Frank interrupts the show and says, "Why are you watching television on Christmas Eve?" He gives a very sincere speech about what he's learned in the last few hours about mercy, charity, and kindness and apologizes to his brother and Claire. Grace's son breaks his silence when he goes up to Frank and says, "God bless us everyone." That put a little lump in my throat; I won't lie!

The movie ends with Frank and everyone on set singing "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." That is a song I love, but I had no idea that it was associated with this movie. Bill Murray breaks the fourth wall as he talks directly to the camera and tells one side of the theater to sing, then the other side. I don't mind it when movies break the fourth wall (as long as it works), but I don't like it when they're specifically mentioning the theater because are they not thinking that people may be watching this, oh, I don't know, twenty-eight years later on a media platform called Netflix and therefore that moment won't make any sense for those people? Anyway, you should download "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" by Al Green and Annie Lennox because it's a good song.

While I enjoyed the movie and am glad I (finally!) saw it, I don't think it will reach the levels of must-watch Christmas classics such as Elf and Home Alone and Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story. It's not even my favorite take on A Christmas Carol; I would have to give that honor to The Muppets Christmas Carol. 

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