I'll Be Home For Christmas (1998)
Directed by Arlene Sanford
Cast: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jessica Biel, Adam Lavorgna, Gary Cole, Eve Gordon, Andrew Lauer, Lauren Maltby, Sean O'Bryan, Lesley Boone.
1998 85 minutes
Rated: (for mild profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 14, 1998.
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" surprised me. Granted, I wasn't expecting very much, especially when most live-action Disney films are admittedly terrible, but this film was actually quite enjoyable, thanks to mostly likable characters and a worthwhile, if not all that original, story.
Jake (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), an 18-year-old student at Palisades College in Southern California, has a sweet, understanding girlfriend, Allie (Jessica Biel), but is the type of person who mostly just thinks about himself. He is very apprehensive about going home to his family in New York for Christmas, especially after his father (Gary Cole) married another woman (Eve Gordon) only ten months after Jake's mother's death. Things turn around for him when his father makes him a proposition he can't refuse: be home by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and get the family's vintage porsche. Although Jake plans to ride home with Allie, who also lives in his hometown, he finds himself stranded in the desert with a Santa Claus suit glued to him, thanks to a bunch of jocks at school, leaving Allie no choice but to get a ride with Jake's rival at college, Eddie (Adam Lavorgna). Meanwhile, as Jake desperately tries to get home by any means possible, he has several run-ins with different people on the road, and through it all, he begins to understand what's really important in his life.
This sort of story and moral has been done in many other films, and is very closely related to the wonderful 1987 comedy, "Trains, Planes, and Automobiles," but what I liked about," I'll Be Home for Christmas," was the treatment that it was given. It was a delight to meet the different supporting characters, and a few of them were especially memorable and brightly written, particularly a policeman (Sean O'Bryan) whom Jake meets along the way that is trying to get his own girlfriend (Lesley Boone), a bubbly waitress working at a restaurant, back.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas has yet to make a great feature film, but it is obvious he is talented, and could be amazing in a more challenging role. And Jessica Biel, who starred in last year's "Ulee's Gold," is perfect as his girfriend, and perhaps the standout in the cast.
There are elements that don't work in the film, however, starting with the character of Eddie, who was very annoying and basically a one-dimensional creep. The overall plotting was also highly predictable, and it was obvious from the beginning how everything will turn out in the end.
No one, I doubt, will be expecting a cinematic masterpiece when they see, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," though, and sometimes it is fine just to sit back and watch an entertaining, harmless family film for a 90-minute duration. Nothing that occurred in it was earthshaking or shocking or particularly inventive, but it was well-done, all the same, and I really did like it.
©1998 by Dustin Putman