Although it is a contemporary film in the German language, Messy Christmas
is sort of an Elizabethan-style comedy of errors. A loving wife and mother
invited her three ex-husbands to Christmas dinner, but did not inform her
current husband. Surprise! She then unveiled an even bigger surprise: during
Christmas dinner she announced that she was pregnant. Only one little problem:
the biggest surprise is on her. Her husband has had a vasectomy that he never
told her about because she really wanted a baby and he was afraid of losing
The husband then spends most of the movie trying determine the real father
by interrogating and intimidating all the ex-husbands and any other male who
crosses his path, including Santa.
I know that sounds more like a hand-wringing, staring-into-middle-distance
Ingmar Bergman drama than a warm family comedy, but it does have some funny
moments. I mean what could be more heart-warming and comical than tiny tots
watching daddy beat Santa to a bloody pulp on Christmas Eve? OK, it's not
exactly filled with side-splitting, laugh-a-minute antics, but there is a
comedic spin to it. By the time the wife made her announcement, the husband
had already asked one of the guests for advice about how to tell his wife the
secret, so there is comedy hinging upon who knows, who doesn't know, and the
significance of that knowledge. The rest of the comic premise, such as it is,
derives from the fact that the ex-husbands seem particularly unlikely to have
fathered the child, for various reasons apparent to everyone but the putative
Yup. Pretty freakin' zany, those Germans! They are possibly even funnier
than the Swedes, who had already been there, done that, and bought the
souvenir horned hat. Some eight years earlier, the Swedes made "Tomten är far
till alla barnen," which is the same movie. I haven't seen the Swedish film,
but based on the info available at IMDb, Messy Christmas must be just about a
word-for-word translation. The Germans didn't even change the names of most of
the characters, thus demonstrating the common cultural heritage of all sauna-
and sausage-oriented nations.
The German film industry today seems to be like the Spanish industry in the
late 80s and early 90s, when the same eight people seemed to be in every
movie. (Did they ever make a movie in Spain without Jorge Sanz in that era?) Messy
Christmas includes all the usual people: Martina Gedeck, Meret Becker,
Alexandra Neldel, Jasmin Tabatabai, etc. Martina Gedeck has 92 IMDb credits,
and she's only in her mid-40s. Gerard Depardieu had "only" 91 at her age.
Meret Becker has 67 acting credits, and she's in her 30s. Depardieu had 62 at
the same age. And Depardieu is required to appear in every French movie, by
dint of the French constitution! He now has 171 acting credits, and he just
turned 60. Setting aside the inexhaustible Depardieu and comparing those women
to a typical North American star, we find that Catherine Zeta-Jones is the
same age as Becker and has only 29 credits!
There is one more quirky thing about German movies. They tend to be like German beaches: filled with naked guys
drinking beer, and just an
occasional flash of girly bits. This is a family-oriented Christmas movie
filled with adorable little tykes singing carols,
and yet there is a four-minute sequence filled with completely naked guys taking a sauna and
running outside in the snow stark naked.
In contrast, those who love female flesh get only
a very brief flash of butt from Jasmin
The Lodger is another example of an
anachronistically inappropriate interpretation of a vintage story. It's about
a series of murders similar to those of Jack the Ripper. A couple takes in a
mysterious lodger, and his arrival coincides with a brutal series of killings. The novel,
written by a Londoner named
Lowndes, took place in London and was written in 1913, when the original Jack
the Ripper might still have been alive, so any resumption of Ripper-style
homicides carried an implicit special terror that the killer might not be a
copycat, but the Ripper himself, still wandering through London 25 years after
his first spate of killings.
The story has been made into five movies:
The first two, like the book, located the story in London during a period
of Ripper-style murders. The 1944 and 1953 versions took the Ripper connection
to the next level. They actually located the story in England in 1888 and
suggested that the mysterious lodger might have been THE Jack the Ripper. All
of those were sensible adaptations
This new one is not.
It just doesn't make sense to bring some stories into modern times. The
best example from a major director would be Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. The
story made sense when it was located in Vienna between the two wars. The
doctor's blind rage at his wife's imaginary infidelity is something completely
believable from a man living in 1920 Austria, and the unverifiable disappearance
of the pianist was credible in a world without cars and telephones. For
reasons clear only to him, Kubrick chose to keep the story exactly the same, but to
locate the action in New York in the 1990s, where the pianist's safety could
have been ascertained immediately with a phone call, and the doctor's response to his
wife's confession seems like a moronic overreaction from a man who must have
been smart enough to get through medical school, and must have studied modern
psychology while he was there. Moreover, we live in a world where everyone
seems to "share" too damned much, and no highly educated man would be surprised to
hear his wife confess to lurid but unfulfilled fantasies about other men.
The Lodger poses a similar inherent problem for a movie adaptation. The
people who made the previous four versions realized that the story really
needs to take place in the distant past in London in order to be effective.
Relocating the story to modern times in L.A. simply doesn't work, for many
First, the original Ripper is long dead, so the story has to be about a
copycat, which removes an important layer of terror.
Second, prostitutes are not likely to walk alone through deserted city
streets in modern cities.
a. Not many streets in Los Angeles, where this story takes place are
deserted to begin with.
b. Prostitutes need customers, and deserted streets don't provide any. They
look for maximum traffic locations, just like the guys who build gas stations
and convenience stores.
c. Furthermore, they don't walk through deserted areas of L.A. to get to
the congested areas where they hawk their wares. Hell, nobody walks anywhere
in cities like L.A. or Dallas. Everyone uses vehicular transportation.
Third, contemporary Los Angeles is not filled with fog, dark corners,
hidden medieval courtyards, or constant atmospheric rain.
I could continue in this vein, but you already see the problems inherent in
the modern interpretation. It all boils down to this: relocating the story to
latter day L.A. not only lacks credibility (where the hell would he even find
a public street where he could kill and eviscerate prostitutes without
witnesses?), but strips away every element that could make the story a
worthwhile movie to begin with.
Which means I don't need to write much more. Making this movie was a really
Sadly, the execution is just as bad. To replace what they lost with the
modernization, the film's creators had to add all sorts of extra wrinkles and
twists and some absurd red herrings, like a suggestion that the investigating
detective is the killer. All of that fol-de-rol leads to a resolution which
makes no sense when one reviews what has been seen earlier, and even that is
trumped by a logic-defying post-resolution epilogue that I still can't figure
out. And those elements were not the worst parts of the script because they
were at least relevant to the story. The worst material consists of irrelevant
sub-plots which were introduced and dropped without ever having any
significance of any kind. There are various elements of the cop's personal
life, for example, which are simply not germane to the narrative. They seem to
come from a separate movie.
The only real mystery which needs to be explained in this film is how such
talented people as Alfred Molina and Hope Davis (and others!) got talked into
working in it. Actually, I can understand why Davis was tempted, because the
landlady's part is a really juicy role which was a perfect match for her range
of abilities, and she did a great job. She manages to be sexy and vulnerable
and crazy, and is the film's only redeeming grace. But Molina should have
known better. He's a terrific performer, but what in the world made him think
he was the right guy to play a hard-ass, workaholic L.A. cop?
Wildly enough, you'll be able to spot plot holes even in the nude scenes.
Listen to the coroner describe the
first victim (Jillian Difusco), then listen to him describe the
second (Jennifer Webb). How
many inconsistencies can you spot?
Hope Davis did not get naked, but
her breasts looked great in a wet t-shirt, and her bottom looked great in a
nightie. As mentioned, Hope's performance and her near-nudity were the
only good things in this film. Sample below.