Movie Review
Elf poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published November 8, 2003
US Release: November 7, 2003

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Will Ferrell , James Caan , Zooey Deschanel , Mary Steenburgen

Running Time: 95 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $173,381,000
70 of 132
It?s sure nice to have a film like this that actually works (to some extent).
Elf is that kind of movie that not everyone will probably expect much from until either critics label it as a surprise, or audiences discover it and spread the word on to friends. With Will Ferrell?s comedic edge (in films) upgrading over time, it would seem like a pretty good sign if he was attached to this; but with that family-friendly PG rating and only partially amusing trailer, one would have to ponder before going into Elf. It is my pleasure to say that while I could?ve gone without its cheeseball story, there are some pretty good laughs rolled up in this movie.

Though Elf never had me falling to the floor in laughter, there were a good number of jokes and gags that had me laughing, but a decent chunk of its material had me sighing down the aisles. For a good distance, Elf is a very surprising and almost Bruce Almighty-like comedy allowing Will Ferrell to embrace a role that has great opportunity in both physical and natural humor.

Ferrell excels marvelously in this role, as his physical appearance alone can generate amusement if not chuckles, and the combination of his deadpan deliveries and overly enthusiastic outbursts make Elf out to be a delightful and sometimes hilarious film. Without Ferrell, the movie would probably not be the same and could?ve easily been just an average family flick.

Elf is the story of a human (Buddy ? Will Ferrell) who?s brought up at the North Pole believing that he is an elf despite the obvious difference in size between he and the other fellow elves. When Buddy is sent to New York City to get in touch with his estranged father (James Caan) and to seek his true identity, Buddy is out of place in the big city but is determined to spread on the holiday cheer to anyone who crosses his path. Predictably, Buddy?s father is not very accepting toward his son and also happens to be neglecting his family due to work (cue the emotional music).

Where the movie lacks is within the story element of the screenplay, as Elf is a sugarcoated holiday release that shoves its themes down the viewer?s throat; there are going to be moviegoers who fall victim to the sweet-natured elements, but I?m not one of them. In a way, Ferrell saves the movie, as without him Elf is simply a clich? and predictable, sappy Christmas tale, which confirms the importance of casting.

Though director Jon Favreau gives the film more life than many other flicks of the genre through a rather jazzy tone, the movie is somewhat uneven, as the first half is very enjoyable and funny, whereas the second half gives in to the clich? side of the feel-good premise. Had the script been really worked on, Elf could?ve held potential to become a very memorable holiday comedy, especially with Favreau?s snazzy direction. There are some very enjoyable segments, but in the end the experience is not as rewarding as it could be; regardless, it?s sure nice to have a film like this that actually works (to some extent).
Lee's Grade: B-
Ranked #70 of 132 between Melvin Goes...Dinner (#69) and Nowhere in Africa (#71) for 2003 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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    November 8, 2003    Scanning the auditorium before the show began, the crowd seemed like they were ready to see this movie. -- Lee Tistaert