It's a pretty safe bet that if you go see a film built around a recent Saturday Night Live alumni, you're going to get a very silly and very fun movie. I'll never argue that films like Joe Dirt or Superstar are great cinema, they aren't supposed to be. There's definitely a time and a place for a stupid movie that makes you laugh and for many reasons I had hoped Elf would be that kind of movie. Unfortunately Elf is not that film.
One of the biggest problems with Elf is that it never quite figures out what kind of movie it wants to be - is it a kids film? A comedy? A fish out of water film? A love story? Or a film about Christmas Cheer? Elf wanders lost stumbling in each of these directions and manages never to succeed at any of them. I won't deny that there were several very funny points in the film, and at many of them I did really laugh. But these moments are so few and far between, that you have to suffer through a fairly bad film to get to them.
Perhaps I expected more form the paring of Swinger's writer Jon Favreau and SNL great Will Farrell. Elf is Jon Favreau's second time out as a feature film Director, and while many people mistakenly think he directed Swinger's, he actually was that films writer. Here he's paired with first time writer David Berenbaum (who also penned the upcoming 'Haunted Mansion' film) and the combo just doesn't work. Berenbaum's script is aimless, light on humor and schmaltzy in all the wrong places. Often SNL alumni are involved with the scripts of the films they do, or they pull along SNL writers with them to make a feature. I think Elf would have benefitted greatly from a team of writers with a strong comedic background. Favreau here seems to be trying to hard to tip his hat to classic TV Xmas shows while failing to resist the temptation to let 'good ole Xmas cheer' fill in where the script can't.
Despite the very poor script Will Farrell gives an extremely solid performance, his comic timing is impeccable. He commits to the character 'Buddy the Elf' 110% and manages to help pull together a film that is otherwise a complete mess. Farrell's enthusiastic performance makes Elf all the more frustrating, much of the film is spent waiting for Farrell to have something funny to do. When it happens the pay off is great, but the moments are just too sparse. There are a lot of very talented actors in Elf including:
James Caan, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen but none of them are given roles where they can really shine. The exception is Bob Newhart who does the most with his small (both in stature and duration) role.
It's very difficult to recommend Elf, it's not really a kids film and kids will probably be quite bored through parts of it, it's not a good comedy and fans of SNL and Will Farrell will definitely disappointed and it's only passable as a maudlin 'Believe in Santa and everything will be OK' Xmas film. While Elf isn't an 'F' of a film, it is a definte C and with such a jam packed fall season of films, you're probably best waiting to rent this film when it comes out to DVD.