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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
After Old School proved that Will Ferrell could make it as a movie lead, he was awarded with his first solo film in Elf, the 2003 holiday film. In it, we see Ferrell as Buddy, a man raised by Santa’s elves, believing he was one. After being told the truth, Buddy ventures to New York City in order to connect with the family he never knew he had. Of course his somewhat cold father (James Cann) is dubious about Buddy’s identity, Buddy’s boundless enthusiasm nevertheless makes an impression on his younger step-brother and, inexplicably, local shop girl Jovi (Zooey Deschanel).
I do not think that it is too far for me to say that Buddy the Elf is a career-defining role for Ferrell. From here on out, he largely plays this kind of character again and again to the point that it is now obnoxious. The whole man-boy shtick makes Ferrell one-note. In 2003, it was largely brand-new (your mileage may vary depending on how you view Old School).
More importantly, this kind of character works in this context. For a holiday movie meant to be silly and fun, having this over-the-top goofiness is the glue that makes the movie stick together. If Buddy was portrayed as a “regular guy” or (worse) some emo type, the Elf would have been terrible.
Of course, the movie has all the gimmicks of your traditional Christmas flick where Santa plays a crucial role. The most ridiculous one being that no one believes Santa is real despite the fact that Santa has been delivering presents since forever. The film also suffers from the idea that all the problems are resolved due to an eleventh hour change of heart, and that it is incredibly easy for a giant crowd in New York to buy into what a seemingly crazy person is saying.
All of that does not really matter. It is a fun, charming movie. The stupid and/or clichéd stuff can easily be overlooked. Obviously it is designed for younger families, but it has that crossover ability that I think pretty much anyone can enjoy. And history has told us that Elf did just that. It is considered a holiday classic, a title it rightfully earned.