A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 292 – The Ref

The Ref – December 17th, 2010

Tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this movie, but it was the first time in a long while and I’m not sure why. It’s a great dark comedy set on Christmas eve, starring Denis Leary, whom I quite enjoy. Granted, it’s not so much about Christmas as it’s about family. It probably could have been set at Thanksgiving or New Year’s and gone in a similar vein. But it happens to be Christmas, and it involves passive aggressive gifts, a drunk Santa, blackmail, St. Lucia crowns and Stockholm syndrome. Merry Christmas!

The three main characters in the movie are Lloyd and and Caroline Chasseur and Gus. Lloyd and Caroline are a constantly bickering couple who live in an affluent Connecticut suburb and Gus is a cat burglar on the run after setting off an alarm at a nearby house. He ends up taking the Chasseurs hostage in their own home until he can get in touch with his partner and get out of town. The problem is that since it’s Christmas eve the Chasseurs have guests coming. Lloyd’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew and his mother. Not to mention that Jesse, Lloyd and Caroline’s juvenile delinquent son, is due home any moment now. They plan an elaborate ruse, with Gus posing as Caroline and Lloyd’s marriage counselor and Jesse tied up on the second floor as insurance.

I did mention the movie’s a dark comedy, yes? The comedic part starts with Lloyd and Caroline and their constant arguments. They never seem to stop. They don’t even finish one argument before starting another. It’s one long unending stream of anger and accusation, forcing even their real counselor to lose his patience with them. Gus soon realizes what he’s gotten himself into, but he’s stuck himself with them and he’s not going anywhere until he can make a clean getaway. The thing is, even when they’re being held at gunpoint they argue. About nitpicky things like stop signs and smoking habits. It’s so wildly out of proportion with the situation and Gus is so clearly flummoxed by them. His reactions, which are basically Denis Leary being Denis Leary, are where most of the humor comes from for me.

When the rest of the family arrives for dinner things just get worse, but they also, oddly, get better. Forced to stick it out together, thanks to Gus, Caroline and Lloyd eventually have it out, airing all the pent up frustrations and grievances they’ve been holding onto for the past fifteen years. Caroline resents Lloyd’s mother and her vice-like grip on the whole family thanks to the money she’s got. Lloyd resents always being maneuvered into decisions he wouldn’t have otherwise made. Actually, everyone resents Lloyd’s mother. She’s the true villain of the movie. Lloyd’s brother and his wife get involved, shouting and yelling and eventually getting tied up by Gus and their own kids. Their kids, by the way, are fantastic. I especially like their daughter who spends most of the movie grinning in glee as the adults around her lose their cool and start giving Grandma what for.

By the end of the movie, after the hideous presents have been unwrapped and the disastrous “traditional Swedish Christmas dinner” has been choked down and Grandma is tied up in the back room, Lloyd, Caroline and Jesse help Gus escape. Because he helped them, you see! He forced them to deal with their problems and didn’t take any of their bullshit! He’s so great, that burglar who waved a gun around in their kitchen and tied up their family! Though, while I’m laying on the sarcasm nice and thick it is made pretty clear that while Gus is a criminal, he’s not really a bad guy. The family is an unhappy mess of people who don’t communicate with each other and hold petty grudges until they’re not petty anymore and having an outsider come in and put a foot down and say “What the fuck is wrong with you people?” really was what the doctor ordered.

He just happened to be holding them all hostage when he did it. Also, he punched Santa.

It’s a wildly unrealistic movie, of course. But what I like about it is that all the nasty stuff that’s done is done by these seemingly respectable people. The real criminal in the movie is the guy who seems totally blown away by it all. He would never do any of this crap. Steal people’s stuff, sure, but smack a kid? Charge interest on a loan to a family member? Hell no. He seems genuinely pissed off that these folks have the potential for a great family and great lives and are wasting it while he’d love to have any of it and can’t. There’s a good-hearted core to the movie surrounded by snark and sarcasm and dark humor that makes it go down easier.

December 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ref

December 17, 2010

The Ref

“Great. I hijacked my fucking parents.”

This is probably my favorite Christmas movie. Not because it is full of the spirit of the season but because it is almost the complete opposite of that sappy sort of movie, but still has a heart of gold. It’s bitter, angry, dysfunctional and hilarious – just like its star Denis Leary himself. I’ve been a fan of Denis Leary since I first heard his No Cure for Cancer concert, and he has a couple riffs in this movie that could have come directly from that classic stand up act.

In the idyllic suburban town of Old Baybrook it is Christmas eve. Everybody is filled with the spirit of the season from the lackadaisical police force (who don’t actually have any crime to fight, it being such a peaceful town) to the cherubic children in the streets gawking at the fantastic Christmas displays in the shop windows. Everybody except Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur, whose marriage is in tatters because they simply cannot stop arguing with each other. And except cat burglar Gus, who just wants that one last score so he can retire in comfort. Unfortunately for Gus his heist goes wrong and his getaway driver panics and leaves him trapped in suburbia. Even more unfortunately for Gus the couple he hijacks in an attempt to get away is of course Caroline and Lloyd, and he can hardly think with all the bickering between these two – much less come up with an escape plan.

Gus’ attempted burglary is apparently the biggest crime perpetrated in sleepy Baybrook in all time – with the result that the state police are soon called in, a curfew is put in place, and road blocks are put up. So he is trapped with the most dysfunctional couple since Tracey and Hepburn in Adam’s Rib on Christmas eve. What’s worse their son is due back from the military boarding school he’s been shipped off to and Lloyd’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew are all on their way over for dinner.

There are two things that make this movie fantastic. The wonderful screenplay and Denis Leary. Oh, I’ll not argue that Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis aren’t fantastic as the Chasseurs – both of them get a lot of fantastic moments and have characters absolutely packed with complex layers to explore, but it’s Leary as Gus that really drives the film. At first he despises the couple as silver-spoon fed privileged suburban yuppies who have had everything handed to them in life, but as he is forced to deal with them he begins to discover that their lives are as miserable as his own in their own way. The movie absolutely shines when he impersonates their marriage councillor Dr. Wong (played at the start of the movie by B.D. Wong of Law and Order fame – he’s not typecast much is he?) Of course it turns out that the Stockholm Syndrome circumstances of their shared confinement is just the marriage counselling that Lloyd and Caroline needed – and it’s fun to see them break out of their shells over the course of the movie and actually express themselves.

Everything about this movie is sly, clever and so much fun. The town of Old Baybrook is one of those more perfect than possible Hollywood creations, but there are tensions and faults even in its peaceful facade. This is illustrated cleverly by the descent into belligerent drunkenness of the town Santa as he goes from household to household throughout the movie. The glee with which the niece and nephew watch the family melt-down is a perfect way to give the audience permission to really enjoy watching the outrageous outbursts that drive the plot. Yes, there’s a lot of shouting and nastiness, but it’s okay because we’re just here to watch and grin and gasp “oh, she did NOT just say that!”

I can think of no better way to appreciate the gathering together of family during this festive holiday season than to watch these crazy people shout at each other, tie each other up, threaten to kill each other and ultimately discover that there can be comfort and joy even in the most unlikely of places. Again, it doesn’t hurt that Denis Leary is fucking hilarious.

December 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 4 Comments