The Christmas season tends to stress me out. Each Thanksgiving, that anxious knot in my stomach returns as a litany of to-do's floods my brain—buy gifts for family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and the mailman; buy, address and mail holiday cards; pick up Christmas tree; go through attic and find ornaments and Christmas dishes; bake for the office cookie swap; pick up secret Santa gifts for book club gals; order holiday ham; shop for the perfect holiday dress; buy tickets to The Nutcracker; wash sheets in the guest room; choir practice; prep for Angel Tree; check on flights for Grandma; take a Valium …

All right, I'm joking on that last one, but let's face it: The holidays can be stressful. And the magic we enjoyed as children can simply disappear for us busy adults. Sometimes I've considered the option of just skipping the Christmas season entirely.

Tim Allen plays Luther Krank, with an eye on skipping Christmas

Tim Allen plays Luther Krank, with an eye on skipping Christmas

And now here's a movie about doing exactly that. Christmas with the Kranks, based on John Grisham's book Skipping Christmas, was right up my alley—but for different reasons than I anticipated. Tim Allen (Home Improvement) plays Luther Krank, a guy who decides to forego Christmas for a sunny cruise to the islands. His reason? His daughter Blair (newcomer Julie Gonzalo) has gone to Peru with the Peace Corps, and won't be home for holidays. Facing an empty nest with wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis), Luther convinces her it would be much easier, and cheaper, to simply skip the whole thing. No Christmas cards, tree or decorations, no parties to plan, no gifts to buy. She agrees, provided she can still donate to her usual charity. The rest of the festivities are off limits. What could be simpler?

But skipping Christmas is not as easy as it sounds, particularly in their close-knit Chicago suburb, where not celebrating the season is simply unthinkable. When the Kranks cancel their Christmas Eve party, and refuse to install their giant illuminated Frosty the Snowman on the roof, hang decorations or donate to the policeman's fund, the neighbors, led by neighborhood "don" Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Akroyd), are put off, to say the least. And when the Kranks start preparing for their cruise with Botox injections and trips to the tanning bed, rumors circulate that the Kranks have lost their minds. Their once-quiet street becomes a battleground as the neighbors pressure the Kranks to resume their normal holiday festivities, putting the very spirit of Christmas itself in peril. The Kranks, meanwhile, are just counting the hours until they can leave for their warmer climes.

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Jamie Lee Curtis, as Nora Krank, is also anxious to escape the madeness

Jamie Lee Curtis, as Nora Krank, is also anxious to escape the madeness

But then, a Christmas Eve phone call changes everything. Blair is coming home after all, and she can't wait to introduce her new boyfriend to all of the family's holiday traditions. With only a few hours to pull together a traditional holiday before Blair's plane lands at O'Hare, Nora makes a mad dash for the last holiday ham, while Luther races to the Christmas tree lot where a scrubby, half naked evergreen is all that remains. Will they get everything together in time?

There are lots of movies about people who are cynical aboutChristmas, but this isn't one of them. In fact, the Kranks aren't jaded at all. Despite Luther's stubbornness, beneath it all, it's clear he's really just avoiding what he's feeling. The idea of not having their daughter home for the holidays was just too difficult to deal with, so he decided to run away.

Luther preps for the getaway with a mega-Botox injection

Luther preps for the getaway with a mega-Botox injection

Now a Christmas movie regular, Allen (The Santa Clause 1 and 2) took a more subdued approach to his character, adding depth and emotion to what could have been a one-dimensional role. Though he has several over-the-top slapstick moments (his attempt to eat lunch after having his face numbed by Botox injections is very funny), for the most part he plays it straight. One scene shot from overhead, in which he stands in the middle of his street as the snow begins to fall, is actually quite touching.

Curtis, on the other hand, camps it up as the wife who is caught between the idea of a romantic vacation with her husband and the obvious joy she gets from participating in the holidays. Known for the toned figure she displayed in such films as Trading Spaces and A Fish Called Wanda, Curtis has in recent years spoken out on body image and self-acceptance as one ages. She even went so far as to appear in a women's magazine without make-up or retouching. It seems she has come to terms with body issues, as she willingly appears in the film wearing an unflattering and ill-fitting bathing suit—flab and all—just to get a laugh. And she does. Few women are confident enough to expose the world to their imperfections, and she does so with glee.

Dan Aykroyd and Tim Allen, admiring the view

Dan Aykroyd and Tim Allen, admiring the view

Slapstick aside, hints of satire flow beneath the surface, as the neighbors' nearly fascist approach to celebrating the holidays offers some cautionary and hilarious moments. In once scene, Nora and Luther hide behind the couch as their home is surrounded by neighborhood kids shouting, "Free Frosty! Free Frosty!" But much like the book from which it is adapted, the humor in this film is used to point toward a more important issue, and it never gets angry, preachy or sappy. There are moments that border on the absurd, but the plot moves forward with purpose and resolves gracefully. And above all, it's funny and suitable for the whole family.

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I went into the film identifying with Luther's plot to skip Christmas. But by the time the final credits rolled, I remembered just why the season of Christ's birth is so special. It's not just about traditions and food and opening gifts. It's about love, and community and giving of ourselves. Christmas with the Kranks may be filled with silly slapstick and outrageous moments, but it's also delightful and heartwarming, and celebrates what's really important about Christmas.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Have you ever felt like skipping Christmas? Why?

  2. Why do so many people get stressed, even depressed, over the holidays? What can we do to help?

  3. How has Christmas become too chaotic in your house? What can we do to make it more meaningful?

  4. What traditions are most important to you around the holidays? Which traditions need to be replaced with new ones?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Christmas with the Kranks is rated PG for brief language and suggestive content. The film does not pursue the religious aspect of Christmas, but is very wholesome overall.

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Directed By
Joe Roth
Run Time
1 hour 39 minutes
Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd
Theatre Release
November 24, 2004
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