Jingle All The Way

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Chris Columbus always had success with Christmas movies. He penned Gremlins (1984) and directed the first two Home Alone movies. Then came Jingle All The Way (1996) and all of that changed. Jingle All The Way is a complete mess. From the shooting script by producer Chris Columbus to Brian Levant’s direction, Jingle All The Way isn’t sure what it’s trying to be or who it is for.

There are plenty of darker, more cynical moments in Gremlins and Home Alone that easily compete with similar features in Jingle All The Way, it’s just that in these earlier films the tone remains bittersweet and playful. This softens the edge a bit when the spectacle of child endangerment and quasi torture porn grace the screen. Brian Levant is just unable to restrain himself from hitting these beats too hard.

Jingle All The Way is a satirical look at the lengths to which parents will go to get their children what they want for Christmas. The film condemns capitalism while at the same time running amok with a series of violently slapstick set pieces that engage one’s baser desires. Schadenfreude is the modus operandi of Jingle All The Way. Isn’t it funny to watch two men desperately try to regain the love of their children by means of material gain? Isn’t it a laugh riot when postal worker Sinbad makes a bomb threat unaware that he’s actually holding an explosive? And isn’t it cute to see Arnold Schwarzenegger attacked by a swarm of angry mothers who assume he is a pedophile?

The sado-masochistic relationship between The Wet Bandits and Kevin in Home Alone is no longer an external conflict of good and evil. In Jingle All The Way this relationship is internalized within each and every paternal figure from Sinbad and Arnold to the late great Phil Hartman. These men are narcissists who are overcome with self-hatred. Jingle All The Way is more of an indictment of fatherhood than it is capitalism and, dressed up as a Christmas comedy for the whole family, it’s rather disturbing.

Yet Brian Levant plays everything off as either high-camp or as melodrama. The film undulates back and forth with a manic zeal. Some scenes are actually pretty funny (“Who said you could eat my cookies?”) while others are just confusing as to why they are there (the scene in the parking lot between Hartman and Rita Wilson). All of this makes Jingle All The Way sort of fascinating to watch. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.

Obviously Jingle All The Way has garnered a loyal cult following. No movie could be this weird and not have its fans. What is odd is that Jingle All The Way has gone on to become a holiday staple. Every year this bitter train wreck shows multiple times on TBS. It’s a strange development for such a momentous flop but it is quite welcome. I would much prefer to watch Schwarzenegger and Sinbad beat each other up in the true holiday spirit than return to the exploits of Kevin McCallister.