“Let’s hang some tinsel.” “Dad, I hate it when you call me that.”
How to even verbalise this joyous mess of a movie? I think it’s been on my long mental list of things to watch for years but it was only this year that a few people on Twitter mentioned that it was a Christmas movie and I finally decided to look for it. It seemed particularly fitting as its director Nora Ephron died this past year and it’s one of only a few of her movies I haven’t yet seen.
The premise is dark – a Christmas comedy about an independently run suicide hotline in L.A. The dark comedy runs as far as a man calling in with a gun in his hand and then (off screen) shooting himself as the “helper” on the other end of the line tells him to “Click it! Go on! Click it!” referring to the phone to remove the static on the line (it’s funnier than it sounds – or maybe I was just dying to laugh…). But it isn’t consistent – it also runs to almost embarrassing (but again, strangely effective… maybe I’m a bit highly strung this time of year) farce (wrapping a corpse in potato sacks and hiding him in a Christmas tree… “They’re burlap which is really itchy unless you’re dead.”). The soundtrack is awash with Christmas tunes which makes it perfect background this time of year, and the cameos list is exhausting.
I get the feeling the movie’s title may have been chosen at the last minute, so perfectly does it describe everything that’s wrong/right about it. The movie seems to just change completely depending one who is on screen. When Steve Martin is on, it feels like any given Steve Martin movie of the 90s (due to the setting, I guess, I couldn’t help thinking of LA Story); when Adam Sandler appears and sings his silly (and hilarious) song to cross dressing Liev Schrieber, it feels like any given Sandler movie; when Rita Wilson is on, it becomes perhaps most like a sweet Nora Ephron comedy; Steven Wright’s scene is entirely his. If it pulled in just one of its many directions, sure, it might be a better movie… but I found it just about perfect as it is for an end-of-Christmas tonic. The whole thing climaxes in a Steve Martin monologue which just about manages to pull together all the disparate threads and tones and certainly joins things like Bill Murray at the end of Scrooged and Phoebe Cate’s Santa story in Gremlins as one of my favourite Christmas scenes ever.
“You’re not upset because you’re broke… You’re not upset because you’re an artist who may never have any place to paint as long as you live… You’re upset because it’s Christmas. Christmas is a time when you look at your life through a magnifying glass, and whatever you don’t have feels overwhelming. Being alone is so much lonelier at Christmas. Everything sad is so much sadder…”
The past few years, it seems – in fact I can think all the way back to 2003 when I got to see Pieces of April at the 11th hour – I tend to find myself increasingly grasping for that feeling during the festive season… you know, it’s all great and everything, but just that moment where you feel like, “yes, now it feels like Christmas, I feel like we’ve done this and tomorrow can be as dull as it likes…” and it often comes right at the very end. A couple of years ago, for example, when I watched One Magic Christmas on Twelfth Night, or last year watching Nativity! This year, Mixed Nuts was certainly that movie for me. I won’t leave it so late in future.