How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 12/27/00 12:46:26

"Free Rein"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The Grinch is loud, colourful, vulgar and funny. I had a great time, but I wouldn’t recommend you bring along a small child; you’re better off reading them the Dr Seuss book it’s based on instead.

Jim Carrey is the long-limbed, green and hairy Grinch who lives in a dark mountain high above Whoville. In flashback, we learn he was always picked on by the Who children for looking different. When he was rudely humiliated the one time he tried to join in at Christmas, he left Whoville and renounced Christmas. The other Whos live for Christmas. With their naturally stuck-up noses and conspicuous consumption, they’re an army of Double Bay shoppers run amok. They’re so loathsome that the nasty Grinch is the hero of this film from the start, and is most entertaining when his
heart is a few sizes too small (it’s hard to believe anyone really changes for the better at the end, the happy ending is just for show).

The little girl who wants the Grinch to rejoin Whoville, and longs to hear that Christmas is about more than buying expensive presents, is played by Taylor Momsen. Pauline Kael, writing about the child in the Lucille Ball remake of Mame memorably commented:
“There is also something unaccountable in the cast; it is listed in the credits as ‘Kirby Furlong’, and it plays little Patrick in the most meticulously irresistible style I have ever witnessed. ... Kirby Furlong is of such inhuman perfection that stamping it out wouldn’t be considered murder, would it?”
When Momsen warbles the film’s signature song, “Where are you Christmas?” (lyrics by Mariah Carey), cracked notes and all, Kael’s words came flooding back. Momsen seems to be in another movie - one without the black overtones. Carrey spends all his
time goading and trying to corrupt her, and she remains impervious. She’s a real trouper (or else she was inserted digitally during post production).

I’ve never thought much of Jim Carrey before. I’ve recognised his flair for physical comedy, and his gift for ad-libbing, but he comes across as smug and he overplays even in his dramatic roles. Ron Howard is not the world’s most imaginative director, and he doesn’t always pick good scripts, but he’s a good director of performers. He deserves full credit for allowing Carrey free rein during The Grinch (his ad-libs and take-offs, including one of Howard, are hilarious). Carrey's unrecognisable beneath all that make-up and he won me from the start - chomping on glass, and breaking into the post office to mix up the Christmas cards and fill the postal delivery slots with jury summonses.

The original story is narrated by Anthony Hopkins on the soundtrack. The writers (Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman) have created their screen story by filling in gaps in the narration. Howard’s assembled one of the finest technical teams in Hollywood
to create the Whos, Whoville and the Grinch’s mountain lair. Make-up, costumes, sets, art direction - they’re all astonishing, and it’s wonderful to see this garish world vividly brought to life. Donald Peterman’s cinematography is striking, but there are
scenes (in the snow, towards the end) which are dimly lit and look flat. Howard’s other great achievement is hiring the criminally under-used Christine Baranski of Cybill (who usually plays villains and supporting characters) as the film’s romantic
lead (she’s a perfect match for the devilish Carrey).

The irony of being told by a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster (released in time for end-of-year holdiays) that Christmas is about more than spending money, was not lost on me. Seeing it in a shopping centre multiplex that may as well have been an outer suburb of Whoville, only accentuated the experience. I don’t think this is the film to teach your child the true meaning of Christmas; but it’s a fun satire of the extended shopping season that Christmas has become. If your kids understand The Truth about Santa Claus, then they’re probably old enough to love The Grinch.

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