The holidays are for families to come together, celebrate each other’s presents — er, sorry — presence, and bask in the warm glow of fireplaces, hot chocolate and “Peanuts” reruns. After all: It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with everyone telling you to “be of good cheer.”
Unless you watch a holiday movie. In film after film, good cheer flies right out the window, or in one case, to Paris, leaving one young boy in serious danger. Get past the happy endings, and you’ll notice that the adults on-screen this time of year are often models of bad parenting. Consider:
“Home Alone” (1990)
Every parent wants to shout from the rooftops: “How do you go on vacation and forget one of your kids at home?”
Let’s leave aside the fact that Kate McCallister, played with sincerity by Catherine O’Hara, had exiled her 8-year-old, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), to a terrifying room upstairs during a family holiday party just because of an argument with his brother.
Instead focus on how long it took Kate and Peter McCallister (John Heard) to figure out their son isn’t along for their Paris vacation. Think about this: It’s a big family on an international flight during a busy season, so they should have arrived at least two hours before boarding; also factor in travel time to the airport — say, 30 minutes. And yet Kate is already in the air when she realizes she’s missing a child. (“Kevin!!!”) So, for at least four hours, Peter and Kate did not notice their son was missing.
Even worse, their negligence made Kevin the prime target for two burglars. Thankfully, he repelled them with acts of incredible violence and torture. If we agree that young children are influenced by their parents’ behavior, what were the McCallisters teaching Kevin?
“The Santa Clause” (1994)
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is an absentee father who seems to have had a big hand in creating a toxic environment for his young son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Things get even worse when Scott kills Santa Claus! It might have been inadvertent, but he doesn’t even call the police. And then Scott decides to finish Santa’s work for the night, with Charlie along to help. The previous Claus just died in a freak accident, so is it a good idea to put Charlie in harm’s way, hopping from roof to roof and breaking into people’s homes?
When Scott’s ex-wife tries to strip him of visitation rights later in the movie, she has a point. Especially considering that when Scott is arrested for trespassing, Charlie is left stranded on the roof.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is a loving, well-intentioned father who just wants a great Christmas for his family, OK? Except for the fact that he sets a terrible example for his children through his poor handling of the family’s finances and his role, under some criminal statutes, in a conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Take his growing impatience when his yearly Christmas bonus fails to arrive quickly. When it apparently does come, Clark explains that he’s going to use it to put in a swimming pool. “I had to lay out the money in advance,” he adds. “Until this little miracle arrived, I didn’t have enough in my account to cover the check I wrote.”
Regardless of when the bonus check arrives, this is poor budgeting and not something he should be teaching his children, Audrey and Rusty. (Clark also offers to fly the entire extended family in for the pool’s opening. Clark, if you can’t afford to break ground without the bonus check, you can’t afford those plane tickets. Come on, man.)
And when it turns out the envelope doesn’t contain that bonus, Clark goes into a rage and demands, as a Christmas present, that his boss be brought to him immediately. Audrey and Rusty have a front-row seat to observe the exact wrong way to handle disappointment and delayed gratification. The climax plays more like a scene from “The Sopranos” than a heartwarming Christmas movie.
“The Family Man” (2000)
Nicolas Cage plays a powerful Wall Street executive, Jack Campbell, who suddenly finds himself living another life, one in which he’s the manager of a tire store with a lovely wife (Tea Leoni), two children and a home in the suburbs. That alternate reality starts on Christmas Day.
On Wall Street, Jack is a stereotypically self-centered powerhouse, more interested in wearing designer suits than having any meaningful relationships. Until Cash (Don Cheadle), a guardian angel, aims to show him the true emptiness in his life by exporting him to a new one.
By nature, Cage’s character doesn’t take readily to being a husband and a father. He even berates his wife in front of their daughter, saying, “I wake up in the morning covered in dog saliva. I drop the kids off, spend eight hours selling tires retail. Retail, Kate.” After listing other grievances about suburban life, he finishes up with, “So what’s in it for me?” All this, by the way, is over Jack’s not being able to afford a new suit.
Imagine being the daughter who hears this rant at the mall during the holiday season.