Christmas cinema is an exercise in contrasts. The good is often excellent, with classics such as A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life and Christmas Vacation. But the bad? Whew, buddy, is the bad ever bad.
Were I ever to compile a definitive list of the worst films ever — and that might be a summertime The Open Man project — a handful of Christmas movies would certainly make the cut. Deck The Halls, Christmas with the Kranks, Reindeer Games and Surviving Christmas are all unmitigated garbage, but one holiday film looms over the rest as the worst of the bunch.
The 2000 QUOTE adaptation UNQUOTE of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a…film…so bad, so loathsome in its execution and completely misunderstanding of the purpose behind the beloved children’s book, it makes my heart shrink three sizes. This movie elicits a resentment for the holidays so profound, I want to steal Tiny Tim Cratchit’s cane and give it away to a wealthy English industrialist, so he might use it as kindling. How The Grinch Stole Christmas pushes me to cheer for Hans Gruber.
Now, I am not exactly broaching new ground here. Critics met the film’s release 17 years ago with mixed reviews, while its reputation among audiences seemingly leans more negative. I’ll stumble upon scathing reviews of the movie from time to time, typically echoing similar thoughts to those that stuck with me when I saw this in the theater (ugh) as a high schooler (louder UGH).
The visuals are bizarre to the point of being nightmarish; the Whos are generally annoying and unlikeable, and come off as materialistic, suggesting Ron Howard missed the entire point of Dr. Seuss’ writing. The Grinch is given a backstory, which, much like Michael Meyers in the Rob Zombie-directed Halloween remake, is completely unnecessary and does more to harm the narrative rather than enhance it. And then there’s Jim Carrey.
Jim Carrey’s performance can best be described as a Christmas dinner ham, glazed in ham, served with a side of ham and followed with a dessert of ham. My initial thought in retrospect is that Carrey’s act had grown tiresome by 2000, but that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, he was trying to reinvent himself and taking on different roles around this time, which is commendable.
Results were mixed; 1999’s Man on the Moon was bad, and 2001’s The Majestic is out-and-out terrible. However, Me, Myself & Irene is an underrated gem and the last Farrelly Bros. movie I really liked.
As over-the-top as Carrey’s portrayal of The Grinch might be, it’s far less grating than Mike Myers’ portrayal of the titular character from 2003’s The Cat in the Hat, another badly blundered Hollywood attempt to remake Dr. Seuss.
Even in hindsight, I don’t remember being bothered by Carrey’s performance — and yet, I detest the movie to a degree that borders on irrational. And I pieced together why with a recent watch of the first half, before my son grew disinterested and moved onto Legos.
A present-day viewing of How The Grinch Stole Christmas struck a nerve with me in a way that only seeing it years later could: The movie is a perfect crystallization of every worst element of turn-of-the-millennium culture.
Filmmakers failing to represent literature’s intended moral message isn’t exclusive to this period. While How The Grinch Stole Christmas fails to convey Whoville in the same way as Dr. Seuss — a portrayal vital to the story — there are examples of this from every decade. One of my personal favorites is Less Than Zero, a novel that depicts the erosion of one’s humanity commensurate with consumerist excess, becoming the edgy version of a 90-minute D.A.R.E. PSA.
However, this misinterpretation of The Whos reflects a common trend of the 2000s that I find especially upsetting: Everyone sucks.
By the early 1990s, the excess of ’80s culture dissipated. Cultural touchstones moments — Desert Storm, the recession, the L.A. riots — rendered the previous decade’s attitudes obsolete, and the new, prevailing ethos was one of cynicism and apathy.
By the end of the decade, the materialistic excess that defined the latter half of the 1980s and the cynical detachment of the early 1990s merged. It’s an era defined by the rise of reality TV, the popularity of atrocious rap-rock like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, and movies like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which wrapped their contemptuous portrayal of all their characters in garish colors.
Characters lack any sort of earnestness of good intentions, because to do so would be lame. That leaves us with protagonists as self-centered and unlikeable as any antagonists.
This era is also noteworthy for its commodified depictions of sexuality. The turn of the millennium was a boom period for teen comedies, which I wrote about in endearing terms over the summer. Its influence seeping into an adaptation of one of my 3-year-old’s favorite stories is weird, though.
Starting from the opening scenes, there are eeeeexxxxxtreeeeeeeeeme! 2000s dudebro Whos — whose makeup effects are utterly terrifying — trying to impress their Who girlfriends by knocking on the Grinch’s door. Two Whos in pink-and-white spandex catsuits fill the frame of a shot of Whoville for a good 3-to-5 seconds.
Later, Christine Baranski appears in a Santa mini-skirt, firing off Christmas lights out of a Gatling gun. Baranski’s character later has an encounter with The Grinch that, uh, well…were it not five years earlier, I would swear was a gag stolen from Wedding Crashers.
According to IMdB, two of the film’s characters are “Sexy Whoville Nurse” and “Sexy Blonde Who.” LOLWUT?!
It’s all so very odd, and yet remarkably ordinary within the context of the era.