We all know the Christmas movies that we’ve been taught are classics: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 24th Street” and “White Christmas.”
They’re good movies, sure, and it’s a very kind Christmas gift to nostalgic parents that we still pretend that Jimmy Stewart is a good, very subtle and nuanced actor.
But by this point, they’re about as tired as those dirty snow mountains that accumulate in Midwestern mall parking lots. It always bothered me that these movies are played endlessly on a loop on Turner Classic Movies and I have to dig through the family drawer of VHS tapes to find the real Yuletide MVP: 1998’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Not to be hyperbolic, but this movie is essentially perfect. I genuinely love it. For those unfamiliar: First of all, I pity you. Please stream it on Netflix. If you simply have “other important things to do” or if you “have a life” and you cannot possibly dedicate 86 minutes to bettering yourself, then I’ll do my best to do it justice.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays Jake Wilkinson, a native New Yorker who is attending school in California. He goes to a fictional school called Palisades Academy and it’s never really clear if it’s a high school or a college and I guess they never really had to clarify because I want to go there either way. Jake is like Zack Morris if Zack Morris had piercing blue eyes and once worked on a sitcom with Tim Allen.
Jake’s girlfriend Allie Henderson (played by “7th Heaven” era Jessica Biel) also goes to school with him, as does Jake’s arch-nemesis Eddie Taffet (played by a guy who was also on “7th Heaven.” This WB drama was simply a breeding ground for talent). Jake, ever the trickster, crosses Eddie and his friends and tries to redeem himself in a scam that involves beepers (!!!) but alas, that goes awry.
To get revenge, Eddie and his goons desert Jake in a dessert in a Santa suit. This is problematic for so many reasons. First, Jake can’t go home with Allie, who he’d angered earlier by trying to get her to skip Christmas with her family and go to Cabo San Lucas with him, which means Allie now has to catch a ride home with Eddie!
Also Jake was promised a Porsche by his dad if he could get home by 6 o’clock Christmas Eve (You know how your parents promise you a car if you make it to family functions by 6:00? It’s one of those deals). And the Santa suit is gross!
As is wont to happen, hijinks ensue. Jake scoots across country with a little help from some old ladies who are Tom Petty fans, a kind hearted thief, a cheating yet charming police officer, a bus full of exactly the type of people you find on a bus, Eddie and his little sister Tracy.
After a change of heart inspired by a philanthropic mayor who looks vaguely like Daniel Tosh, Jake realizes there are more important things than a fancy car, like being a good person and kissing Jessica Biel.
Jake does make it home for Christmas and although his dad still offers him the Porsche, he refuses it. Because, you know. Family. Oh, there should’ve been a spoiler alert before that tidbit. Sorry.
The plot alone makes this movie all you’ve ever needed, but there are some more subtle layers that push it far beyond.
The Elements of the ‘90s
People are still crazy for the 1990s, as if they forget how annoying it was to have to watch the TV Guide channel to see what was on or how clunky portable CD players were. Regardless, if you’re looking to reminisce about the time when “Dinosaurs” ruled the land (or TV, at least), “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is for you.
The stand-out moments:
— A reference to Dave Matthews Band
— An enthusiasm for pore strips
— Frosted tips accentuated with hair gel
— A conversation that takes place via a landline in a dorm room
— The phrase “travel agent”
— Non-ironic bucket hats
— A picture of Bill Clinton hanging in a classroom
— A backwards Kangol hat
— The protagonist having a bratty little sister named Tracy who wears overalls
— Pay phones
— The use of pay phones to call off-sight answering machines
— Aqua’s “Dr. Jones” and Jimmy Ray’s “I Got Rolled”
— A cop who looks like Dave Coulier
— Jessica Biel’s pleather jacket
— Pre-9/11 security which meant that Jake could sneak onto a flight in a dog carrier
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as Socially Progressive
What’s that? You prefer to live in the moment? Even with all the ISIS stuff going on? Okay. “I’ll be Home for Christmas” can be for you too.
First of all, Biel’s Allie is a very strong character who warns sketchball Eddie that she will not tolerate any “sexist, racist, or homophobic jokes.” She is a fortress of feminism and she puts Eddie in his place many a time, all while maintaining a hairdo with just the perfect degree of flip. Ladies, who said we can’t have it all?!
There is also a part of the movie when Eddie and Allie are driving and Eddie says, “I’m a millennial type of guy. I dig world music, I think freons should be banned. I’m into yoga and macrobiotic food, you know?” And in those 24 words, Eddie accurately summed up the direction of the coming millennium.
Also at one point Jake is hitchhiking in his Santa suit, holding up a sign that says “Reindeer on strike.” That sort of thing would go viral today with a headline like “This hitchhiker dressed as Santa AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.”
The song for the closing credit sequence is *NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”
And what else do you need? The perfect Christmas song to end the perfect Christmas movie.