Eleanor Ringel Comments on Gendering Clauses in Holiday Movies

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“Fred Claus” is a lost cause from the first flicker of the projector. Some Hollywood smartie must’ve burped, “Hey, what if we mixed ‘Bad Santa’ and ‘Elf?’” So they did and the result is the most charmless Christmas movie this side of “Jingle All the Way,” “Deck the Halls” and the mid ‘80s Dudley Moore debacle, “Santa Claus: The Movie.” Vince Vaughn bears the stigma of the title role, but good actors like Paul Giamatti, Kevin Spacey, Kathy Bates and Miranda Richardson are stuck in the yellow snow with him.

As the abysmal “Fred Claus” reminds us, one thing women have been spared is the ignominy of carrying the weight of some noxious family holiday movie cooked up by people who spend their holidays in Aspen or Costa Rica (read, very rich, very untalented types who know how to get their movie on the screen, then take the money and run). Think about it. Not only the aforementioned Dudley Moore, but also Arnold Schwartzenegger in “Jingle All the Way ” (which my husband deemed so unwatchable he sat in the car in the parking lot rather than be in the same room with it) and the twin debacle of Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick in last year’s “Deck the Halls” (known at my house as “Dreck the Halls”). Tim Allen soldiered on in three “Santa Clause” pictures. Jim Varney contributed “Ernest Saves Christmas.” Bill Murray in “Scrooged” looks almost classic by comparison.

Of course, guys get most of the good movies, too. Alastair Sim in “A Christmas Carol” and Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” for starters. Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa,” too.

But movies that center around women toiling through Yuletide are hard to come by. Two exceptions, which you may want to rent when it gets past Thanksgiving: “A Magic Christmas,” sort of Mary Steenburgen’s version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Christmas in Connecticut,” with Barbara Stanwyck trying to pretend that making Christmas cookies is her sole reason for living.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).