Christ the Lewd | Episode 22

Posted December 15, 2015

Contemporary Christmas film has a real thing for the coal-getting kids. In our holiday episode, we take on three movies flipping the bird to seasonal propriety through partying, perfectionism and general Grinching. And yet, these films only exist and resolve themselves because of an eventual appreciation for tradition and familial embrace. We watched "The Night Before" (2015), "Christmas Vacation" (1989) and "Bad Santa" (2003). So be good, children, if just for a day.

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The night before
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A note from Noah, read from during this episode, and written before he asked Chance’s opinion of Christmas movies:

In this week's podcast—one Chance and I have dubbed “Christ the Lewd”—we'll be taking a look at three holiday movies that take the gross-out, raunchy comedy approach. Those familiar with the podcast or my personality in general will know that the traditional Christmas film is a particular favorite of mine. As such, I could tell that the moment we picked this genre, Chance was going to go to work destroying not only the movies we picked—granted they weren’t all winners—but the genre in general. Why do I love Christmas movies and Chance despises them? Perhaps it’s the sincerity, the typically-underlying romantic plot or my underlying Judaism and Chance’s passive rejection of his own faith, but I personally know no better way to celebrate this special, unquantifiable time of year by watching Kevin McCallister experience trauma that will certainly define his adult relationships or Nicholas Cage yell crazy things at Téa Leoni at JFK before she moves to London. But my appreciation for this genre of film is not without a consistent and critical rubric.

Now, the raunchy Christmas movie is its own beast, but it still exists within the same ballpark as all Christmas movies—aware of certain rules, and without fail, a moral code that involves subscribing to the magic of Christmas. By following these rules, all of these films—in order to be accessible to a general audience—explore, criticize and celebrate the suburban American family and what familial love means for the middle class.

And more specifically for these films, the genre posits the American man, once he has come of age, desires to reach said state of Christmas euphoria, and all manner of sins may be forgiven if the end result is an act of love. However, the conflict is found in a lack of self-awareness for these men: hubris, habit and cynicism interfere with the underlying morality code and sanctity of the very American sense of family. And the success or failure of these films, for me, hangs in whether or not these men find the clarity to understand familial love, and subsequently provide an entertaining entry into the genre.

National Lampoon's “Christmas Vacation” will take a very John Hughes family—as it is film written by John Hughes—with a traditional hapless patriarch, eye-rolling rock of a matriarch and two kids of either gender with deep skepticism towards the situation they’ve been thrust into. It's a movie that is deeply concerned with the prerogatives of the middle class, hanging the needs of Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold on creating the American Christmas ideal we've been led to believe is the essence of the season from films like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Christmas in Connecticut” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” And ultimately, the conflict of the film hangs on a suburban, middle-class father providing for his family through the tangible goal of installing a swimming pool. The world, however, conspires against Clark, never forgiving him for his own hubris, his own desire to be a man, as seen through his own subservient role at work, his sexual frustrations, an unaccommodating series of Christmas trees and an overtaxed electrical system.

This is a very cynical series of films. Often, it is their pleasure in punishing the protagonists for the people blood, fate or circumstance have deemed "their family." In “The Night Before,” the biblical story of the three wise men is told through the conceit of an ersatz family being formed after the literal death of the traditional family unit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's parents are killed, ironically and somewhat cringe-inducingly (due to the film's steadfast celebration of drug and alcohol abuse), in a drunk driving accident on Christmas. His two friends, caricatures of an expectant father and a latter-season football player, bond together over the course of 15 years to form a family, albeit one that abets all sorts of unforgivable behavior in search of Christmas euphoria. But isn't that the American understanding of what Christmas should be? Though the film understands this unattainable goal as a raucous, exclusive party, it speaks volumes to the idea that Christmas is the exercise of trying and failing to reach a physical state of being against a cynical, cold-hearted world. This tradition of failure acts as comedy in marginalizing these male figures who must learn that their own lack of understanding of what they have is the sole factor keeping them from reaching Yuletide enlightenment so to speak, understood in the narrative sense as man versus himself. It is Clark's hubris and unrelenting quest to host the perfect Christmas that keeps him from doing just that. It is Ethan's fear of commitment as a response to his fear of losing his family that keeps him from truly having a family of his own.

And in our third film, “Bad Santa,” Billy Bob Thornton's Willie—a thief with the running scam of casing department stores disguised as the mall Santa—must come to terms not with the commercial limitations of American life or his own fear of commitment keeping him from connecting with his contemporaries, but his own cynicism toward the vulnerability that comes with the Christmas spirit he has been avoiding since his Dickensian childhood.

I mention Dickens because Willie is a Scrooge archetype, making his living through the naïveté of others who believe in Christmas euphoria, but ultimately offsetting his absence of belief with heavy drinking and anonymous anal sex. His adherence to counterculture in terms of the American Christmas ideal gives him an upper hand that allows his scam to work year after year—who would expect the mall Santa to rip them off?—but he has no stakes that tether his scores. He has no family to provide for, and his only family in his partner, much like our own as the viewer, is someone he seemingly hasn’t chosen, and their relationship hinges on tradition and survival.

However, when Willie’s ethics are challenged when he finds himself the guardian of a young boy with an inverse naïveté and longing for the Griswoldian American Christmas, Willie's existence is violently altered. Now, despite his own cynicism, his ultimate desire becomes to provide this child with at least the semblance of a real Christmas. And in turn, the boy provides him the family, and thus the moral code, he's been lacking in his life.

What separates these films from the typical holiday fare is their argument that familial love is not a foregone conclusion. Kevin’s mother is always going to find a way back to Chicago, even if it’s in that van with John Candy. Nic Cage was always going to pick the life of suburban satisfaction over Wall Street nihilism. George Bailey is always going to make it home. But our films aren’t about the path of least resistance. Clark isn’t going to bail out his cousin Eddie’s dire finances with his Christmas bonus. There’s a really good chance these 30-something guys probably do see each other way less now that they’ve settled down. And Willie the Mall Santa probably isn’t going to marry white trash Lorelai Gilmore and raise Thurman Merman. But for this moment, their creating one act of love on December 25th and subscribing to American middleclass values, we understand that they are good people.

The emotional payoffs of these films are the fade-to-white moment these characters—through indulgence, substance abuse and grand larceny—must discover within themselves. And they ultimately become films about people just like us: those who take family for granted by shaking them off as an annoyance, a burden or an enabling force that encourages our worst selves. And if there's anything to take away from these films, regardless of Chance's foregone cynicism, it's that beyond the artifice created by this time of year, it's a nationally if not internationally recognized venue in which one can appreciate how we serve the ones we love, both blood relations and those we’ve picked up through more interesting circumstances. They’re about having a little hope that something improbably will happen because you chose it was supposed to. And ultimately, these movies are about people who stay in touch even though they have no good reason to, even if it’s dressed up as a podcast, because they love each other. So even if Chance and I disagree, at least we've had this conversation at all and it has sustained our little family for another year. I love you, man.


All The Movies We've Reviewed

101 Dalmatians
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Things I Hate About You
127 Hours
22 Jump Street
47 Meters Down
Across The Universe
A Dangerous Method
A Few Good Men
Air Force One
A League of Their Own
Alien 3
Alien: Covenant
Alien: Resurrection
American Animals
American Hustle
American Made
American Psycho
American Splendor
A Simple Plan
A Single Man
A Star Is Born
Atomic Blonde
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Baby Driver
Baby Mama
Bad Company
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Moms
Bad Santa
Basic Instinct
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Beasts of No Nation
Beauty And The Beast
Before Sunrise
Behind Enemy Lines
Black Hawk Down
Black Mass
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bleed For This
Body Heat
Boogie Nights
Bridge of Spies
Bull Durham
Call Me By Your Name
Captain Fantastic
Catch Me If You Can
Chariots Of Fire
Chasing Amy
Child's Play
Christmas Vacation
Cinderella Man
Con Air
Cool Runnings
Crazy Rich Asians
Crimson Tide
Danny Collins
Dante's Peak
Dead Poets Society
Deep Blue Sea
Deep Impact
Deja Vu
Demolition Man
Dirty Dancing
Donnie Brasco
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
Dude, Where's My Car?
Easy A
Eddie The Eagle
Ed Wood
Employee of the Month
Erin Brockovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Event Horizon
Everybody Wants Some!!
Executive Decision
Ex Machina
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Fatal Attraction
Field Of Dreams
Finding Forrester
For Love Of The Game
Friday Night Lights
Game Night
Gangs of New York
Garden State
Gone Girl
Gone In Sixty Seconds
Grosse Pointe Blank
Hail, Caesar!
Half Baked
Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Head of State
He Got Game
Hocus Pocus
Hollywood Ending
Hot Tub Time Machine
How High
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Ingrid Goes West
Inherent Vice
Inside Man
Inside Out
In The Land Of Women
In The Line of Fire
Into The Wild
I, Tonya
Jaws: The Revenge
John Wick
Jurassic Park III
Jurassic World
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
King Cobra
Kingdom Of Heaven
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Lady Bird
La La Land
Leave No Trace
Less Than Zero
Lethal Weapon
Little Miss Sunshine
Love & Mercy
Love, Simon
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mamma Mia
Matchstick Men
Midnight Special
Million Dollar Arm
Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mississippi Grind
Mo' Better Blues
Mom and Dad
Money For Nothing
Moonrise Kingdom
Mr. Mom
Murder at 1600
My Cousin Vinny
National Lampoon's Vacation
Never Say Never
Ocean's Twelve
Old School
One Hour Photo
Open Water
Orange County
Out of Africa
Part of Me
Peter's Friends
Phantom Thread
Picture Perfect
Practical Magic
Public Enemies
Purple Rain
Raising Arizona
Red Dragon
Red Eye
Red Sparrow
Remember The Titans
Reversal Of Fortune
Rock Of Ages
Run All Night
Save The Last Dance
School Ties
Scream 2
Simply Complicated
Sleepaway Camp
Small Soldiers
Snakes On A Plane
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Southside With You
Space Jam
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
State and Main
Step Up
Steve Jobs
Sweet Home Alabama
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Addams Family
The Big Chill
The Big Sick
The Bling Ring
The Brady Bunch Movie
The Campaign
The Cell
The Cloverfield Paradox
The Color of Money
The Disaster Artist
The End of the Tour
The Family Man
The Fast and The Furious
The Fighter
The Flintstones
The Fly
The Fog
The Fugitive
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Hateful Eight
The Hate U Give
The Holiday
The Hours
The Hunt For Red October
The Illusionist
The Indian In The Cupboard
The Insider
The Judge
The Jungle Book
The Last of the Mohicans
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The Martian
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Meg
The Mexican
The Mighty Ducks
The Mission
The Mosquito Coast
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Natural
The Negotiator
The Nice Guys
The Night Before
The Pagemaster
The Perfect Storm
The Poseidon Adventure
The Prestige
The Queen
The Recruit
The Revenant
The River Wild
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Rules of Attraction
The Shadow
The Shallows
The Sixth Sense
The Social Network
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three
The Thing
The Truman Show
The Watch
The Witches of Eastwick
This Is Where I Leave You
¬°Three Amigos!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Tropic Thunder
Van Wilder
Varsity Blues
V For Vendetta
Welcome To Me
While You Were Sleeping
White House Down
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Wild Things
Wild Wild West
Win It All
Without A Paddle
Wyatt Earp
Young Adult
Zack and Miri Make a Porno