A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , ,


  1. Im wondering why I’ve never heard of this movie.. Have to see it

    Comment by Babygirl | December 18, 2010 | Reply

    • Yes. I highly recommend it. (One of the advantages to living in the future as we do is that when you discover a cool movie you’ve never seen it’s pretty easy to find a version to watch.)

      Comment by tanatoes | December 18, 2010 | Reply

  2. Judy Davis! ❤ ❤ <3!
    Time for a Judy Davis festival?

    Children of the Revolution
    One Against the Wind (my favorite)
    Husbands and Wives
    Barton Fink (which for some reason I have never seen)

    Comment by Doc Wheat | December 18, 2010 | Reply

    • Hah. Of those the ONLY one I’ve seen is Barton Fink. I saw it in the theater with Granny when it first came out. I think she was somewhat befuddled.

      Comment by tanatoes | December 18, 2010 | Reply

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