What ultimately turns “Elf” from an okay movie to a good movie, is Will Ferrell. Will Ferrell gives such a good performance here and is both laugh out loud funny and endearing presenting such a conviction with his role and commits to this character giving a wide eyed exuberance throughout the entirety of the film, even when facing adversity and hardship. What “Elf” essentially has going for it in the long run is its sense of innocence approaching family and Buddy approaching the real world. The film, while a story about an man who thinks he’s an elf discovering the real world, it’s also about losing ones innocence and grasp on their inner-child.
Buddy, as a baby, crawled in to Santa’s bag and were welcomed among the elves, but when he became a man, he discovers that he’s really a human being. Now he returns to his world searching for the family he never knew. While there, Buddy discovers his family who has lost their grasp on life. James Caan is very funny as Buddy’s father, a workaholic who doesn’t accept Buddy in to his life immediately. Caan is a great straight man to Buddy’s antics on-screen, and we can’t help but laugh. Buddy turns from a nuisance to a basic breath of fresh air for his estranged family, and everyone around him as he tries to make everything and everyone around him better as people, and like the audience, his enthusiasm is irresistible.
There are just scenes here that will make you sympathize for Buddy, as he tries to gain acceptance in to the outside world and adjusting to society outside his home. Then there are scenes that will just make you laugh out loud, like when he fights a faux Santa at a shopping center, when he confronts a raccoon he thinks is a kitty, and when he’s attacked by a little person who he thinks is an elf. Peter Dinklage gives a good spirited walk on role as a brilliant writer brought in to Caan’s business who beats the hell out of Buddy after he confuses him for an elf. My favorite part, though, is when Buddy is taken to the doctor by his father and reacts to getting his blood drawn.
The supporting characters contribute well with folks like Steenburgen, and Zooey Deschanel who plays Buddy’s love interest. That said would it have hurt to focus on the family more, or on Buddy’s inner-thoughts? And the whole love interest sub-plot involving Deschanel was just too broad to even bear any interest. She’s barely in this movie, doesn’t have much of a character at all, and then we’re just supposed to believe she fell for Buddy. The final moments involving an inexplicable Bob Newhart was just really cheesy and forced. Despite the narrative flaws, “Elf” is a guiltless family comedy for all audiences with just a simple but very appealing story, and I couldn’t help but really like it for what it was.