Oh, you thought our Thanksgiving op-eds were bad? Gird your stockings for the least wonderful time of the year, when the merry gentlepeople of MEL attempt to outdo one another with the most heinous holiday takes we can unwrap. We can already feel the angry tweets nipping at our noses.
Every year, the money folks at every major movie studio bequeath the masses with a candy aisle full of Christmas movies. Most of these films are dog shit. But amongst the flurry of green-and-red themed flicks are some undeniably great classics. Everyone loves It’s a Wonderful Life and the Home Alone movies. Bad Santa is a good reminder of Billy Bob Thornton’s breadth of talent. I personally think Eyes Wide Shut is yet another Christmas classic. But these are all films that regularly find their way onto best Christmas movie lists. That is to say, most everyone knows that the aforementioned movies are righteous.
The same, however, cannot be said of what I believe to be the single greatest and most prescient Christmas movie of all time: The 1996 Sinbad and Schwarzenegger flick about late-stage capitalism and a world in decay, more commonly known as Jingle All the Way.
The movie, which has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 15 percent, is about absentee father Arnold Schwarzenegger and mailman Sinbad both desperately scouring the city in search of the must-have action figure of the season just a day before Christmas. When we first meet Sinbad’s character, Myron Larabee, the audience is introduced to an unhinged, ostensibly crazed postal worker. But Larabee is far from insane: In fact, upon meeting him, he delivers an astute monologue about how the entire mechanism that leads working-class people to spend money they don’t have on things that are meant to buy them doses of happiness is “all a ploy” on behalf of the “corporations” and “powerful toy cartels.” In 1996, this sort of opinion may have been viewed as conspiratorial — in 2020, it’s commonly accepted as truth.
Nonetheless, Schwarzenegger and Sinbad, cogs in a system that exhausts them of their humanity, press on, because even the most apathetic folks can’t escape the pull of consumer culture on Christmas. The search reunites the fathers on multiple occasions for brief but fleeting moments of clarity, wherein they both realize how absurd their quest for a plastic toy actually is. But those scenes are quickly punctured by the claws of capitalism that turn two adult men in similar predicaments against one another. This, I posit, is arguably the most effective distillation of our current socio-economic reality, and what makes this movie so damn great.
While it is meant to serve as a silly holiday movie where we get to watch Schwarzenegger do his signature facial contortions brought on by quirky situations — in one scene, he punches a reindeer in the face and follows it up by pouring the same reindeer a whiskey to commiserate — the movie is also a subliminal reminder that the holidays are a truly cursed vision of how a sick society operates. By pitting two people — both of whom are being suffocated beneath the pall of a system that keeps them away from their families — against each other, the movie is an effective look at a society so obsessed with individualism that it remains blind to the fact that they’re fighting against the wrong enemy.
Still, you find yourself actively rooting for both Schwarzenegger and Sinbad, despite the fact that the world they live in is utterly fucked. You want them to win and get their hands on the toy, despite knowing that just by the nature of obsessively seeking a plastic action figure to gift to kids they barely even know, they’ve already lost. This is the spirit of Christmas — a wondrous tonic — winking “fuck you.” (It helps, too, that in Schwarzenegger’s case, getting his hands on the Turbo Man action figure also means saving his relationship with his wife, who is being wooed by their creepy, nice guy neighbor played perfectly by the late great Phil Hartman.)
The movie finishes like a classic Christmas movie ought to, with a happy ending and a moral lesson that no one involved will ever actually apply to their lives: That it was never about the toy, it was about time — specifically, the value of time spent together between father and son.
Anyway, happy holiday shopping.