My fiance and I are sentimental saps. I had a meltdown at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, and he has cried at all the Pixar films I showed him. Up was the worst, of course, although Brave was pretty emotional too. I also became a little bleary eyed over Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) in the car on our way to a family Christmas. I wasn’t always like this. When I was younger my heart was as cold and judgemental as my Patti Smith haircut. Now it’s all I can do not to look at snowmen and feel the tears of nostalgia welling up behind my eyes. It’s kind of embarrassing, but what’s a little sentiment here and there?
It’s unsurprising then that we both have a serious soft spot for Elf. It’s as sugary sweet as Buddy’s maple syrup spaghetti breakfast, and just as heartwarming. Against all odds, this film works really well. It’s not the kind of thing I usually like or seek out but, because it was associated with Christmas (not to mention the effervescent presence of Zooey Deschanel) I saw it. I loved it, and I saw it again. Elf mixes the adorable (arctic puffin?) with the absurd, like mistaking a neglige as the perfect gift for your estranged father. It works because those two aspects are kept separate, and there is never any question as to whether the characters are acting appropriately. Elf takes itself seriously only when it counts: right at the end when the Christmas spirit is the only thing that will make Santa’s sleigh fly. At that moment all the pent up sentimentality coalesces and we are left desperately grasping at the Christmas feelings we used to have as kids. The tears are easy because the final scenes of Elf bring that feeling back and validate it. It lets you know that sense of wonder and excitement is at hand if you only believe.