I love some Christmas classic films and hate others. I’ll blaspheme and say I just don’t care about “It’s a Wonderful Life” and i’m a little overdone with “A Christmas Story“. I never get tired of “A Christmas Vacation” “Die Hard“, and “Gremlins” though. What truly makes a Christmas, or holiday film? Some people would say it has to not only be set within the holiday but it also must feature story elements common to holidays, like love, giving, and all that other boring stuff. Ok, well seriously yeah those thematic elements CAN play a part in holiday storytelling but they don’t have too. Let’s see; there’s Silent Night, Deadly Night and other holiday themed horror films which I still believe are HOLIDAY films but they are often more about scares and blood letting than they are about family, love, and gift giving. Sometimes it’s fun to play against type.The really great holiday films are those that can play against type and still offer the tropes of the holiday film all in the same story. My personal favorite holiday, well Christmas, film is darkly funny, a little sad, and still very much Christmas: The Ref. The movie stars Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, and Christine Baranski. This 1994 film sees Dennis Leary playing thief pretending to be a marriage therapist for Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis. He’s hung in the couples house while their dysfunctional family has Christmas dinner.
The cast alone makes this film a must view. While Dennis Leary hasn’t exactly done a string of classics this film was made when he was at his most popular and the supporting cast of Judy Davis and Christine Baranski are still some of the funniest actors in TV and film. Kevin Spacey gets to play the straight man here for most of the movie but when he does deliver humor its biting and hilarious. The Ref is a break from saccharin holiday comedy by offering shades of dark humor, a little emotional drama along with all the humorous melodrama, and hard PG13 storytelling. One of the highpoints in the film is the actual holiday meal. It’s weird, funny, and a little sad. Back in those days no one did a funnier temper tantrum than Dennis Leary and “The Ref” features one of his best. He had just come off of doing those aggressive MTV shorts that all of the youngsters (me included) loved where he just complained about stuff. He was snarky, a little mean, and ridiculously funny and all of that still comes through in this little holiday film.
This film makes a great Christmas film because Christmas is a character on the film not just an excuse. Without Christmas you wouldn’t have the film and all the best Christmas classics feature Christmas in this way. So when are looking for a fun holiday film that’s a little different than the saccharin standards “The Ref” is a must watch. No it doesn’t conjure feelings of nostalgia for me. I didn’t grow up watching this one with family. I discovered this film on a whim one night on HBO and now I just have to watch it every year. Also, if you watch this one on basic cable you will do yourself a disservice. It’s not a ridiculously racy film but the parts that would get cut for TV are really funny.