Monday, December 3, 2018

Christmas Movie Scorecard: I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS vs. JACK FROST (1998)

by Adam Riske
Two absolutely nuts Christmas movies celebrating 20th anniversaries go head-to-head.

The Self-Centered Lead

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• Jonathan Taylor Thomas (JTT) plays Jake Wilkinson, a wannabe Zack Morris college student/con-man from New York going to school in California. He’s a snippy jerk who’s bad at telling jokes and is starting to make Tim Allen facial expressions. During the film, he lies to Jessica Biel, fakes math scores, gets his ward to conjure up Dave Matthews backstage passes at The Coliseum, trades the plane ticket his dad sent him back to New York for Christmas for two tickets to Cabo, grabs a hotel desk clerk by the neckerchief, and steals a one horse open sleigh from a parade while almost running over the same group of carolers…twice! Otherwise, he’s a solid protagonist worth rooting for. Did I mention the inciting incident of the movie is Jake’s dad promises to give Jake his 1957 Porsche as a bribe to come home for Christmas? It’s debatably a first-world problem. It’s also a JTT vehicle in a JTT vehicle.
Jack Frost

• Michael Keaton plays both human and snowman Jack Frost, the workaholic front man of The Jack Frost Band. He likes doing flirty role play exercises with his wife, is sarcastic all the time and usually full of swagger. He gives his son, Charlie, a magic harmonica and teaches him the “J Shot,” which helps you score goals in hockey and in life. Jack is starting to live his dream of being a big-time musician so he’s a little flaky and bad at managing his work-life balance. As a snowman, Jack does some good dadding, teaching Charlie about responsibility. According to IMDB trivia, Jack Frost was originally supposed to be played by George Clooney who instead left this project to play Batman in Batman & Robin. This was troublesome for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, because they designed Jack Frost specifically for Clooney’s facial features and acting style. My question is if this was supposed to be late '90s Clooney, why isn’t Snowman Jack Frost’s head and neck constantly moving around?

Winner: Jack Frost

The Love Interest

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• Jessica Biel plays Allie Henderson, Jake’s mistreated girlfriend. She’s a good student who loves poetry and gets excited about Iowa-based Bavarian villages. She doesn’t like Jake’s plan to cash in his NY tickets for them to go to Cabo (she wants to be home with her family for Christmas…she and Jake conveniently live in the same town), but then at the end of the movie, she leaves her family on Christmas Eve anyways because Jake suggests it. She at one point calls him a “genuine butthole” which Freeform partially mutes out, so she just calls him a “genuine butt.” The country is in shambles, but the good news is we have the word “butthole” censored from our virgin ears. This is Biel in 7th Heaven mode. Your mileage may vary. I vastly prefer Jake’s stepmom, but we’ll get to her; let’s just say that on the 7th day, G-D made Jake’s stepmom.

Jack Frost
• Kelly Preston plays Gabby Frost, a sarcastic bank employee who, understandably, becomes a sad wife and extra-concerned mom after the passing of her husband, the Human Jack Frost. She carols with “the neighbor ladies” (off-screen), uses all the mini marshmallows in her cocoa, and drives an ugly car with wood paneling. She’s also amazing because Kelly Preston.

Winner: Jack Frost

Supporting Characters

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• Eddie “The Ed-man” Taffet – The antagonist and Jake’s sworn enemy. He hits on Allie, crashes his car into another car and maybe does a hit & run(?), shoves Jake’s minion (named Ian) into a locker twice which may cause the kid to die (since everyone has left campus for Christmas), and later gets arrested and presumably goes to jail for Christmas because he tells off some cops in tree costumes at a parade roadblock. At one-point, Eddie takes a bite of a Twinkie and then throws the rest of it at his dashboard like that’s something people do when they can’t finish one. I love that the last we see of Eddie is when he’s going to prison.
• Mr. Wilkinson – Jake’s dad, played by Gary Cole. He’s a doormat for his son, who’s mad at him for remarrying ten months after Jake’s mom died. Jake hasn’t come home for Christmas since, so Mr. Wilkinson offers Jake his 1957 Porsche as a bribe if Jake is home at 6pm Christmas Eve when they sit down for dinner. I see both sides. Jake is not wrong for thinking his dad moved too fast. Gary Cole is not wrong because his new wife is a real lady and you don’t keep Gary Cole on the bench when it comes to love.

• Carolyn Wilkinson – Jake’s Stepmom, who is from the Elizabeth Mitchell in The Santa Clause 2 and Ally Walker in Kazaam school of Disney “She-Grown” Dreamgirls. She makes salads so green they look fake and just wants Jake’s sweater size…BUT HE WON’T GIVE IT TO HER…and then at the end he does (AND ASKS FOR HERS BACK) because acceptance.

• Tracey Wilkinson – Jake’s younger sister, who rightfully think he’s a jerk. He calls her his slave at least once. She then bails him out late in the movie because I guess it’s just their mutual “go fuck yourself” bit together and nothing personal.

• Nolan -- A petty thief from whom Jake hitches a ride. He’s the wacky, spaced-out sidekick for a while. He dresses like an elf to go with Jake’s Santa (making them a formidable comedic duo) and always pronounces words off-center because that’s the joke! For example, he says “I will not go back to a state correctional fa-cilitay!”

• Officer Max – A cheating fucker highway patrolman who recruits Jake’s help to get his wife back because Jake is dressed as Santa and therefore a relationship counsellor.

• Marjorie – Officer Max’s estranged wife. She’s a waitress at a Nebraska restaurant and moved there from Colorado because Office Max was tongue-kissing an ex-girlfriend, so Marjorie kicked his ass to the curb. She takes him back for some reason after he serenades her inappropriately (we’ll get to that later).

• 5K Mayor – A Wisconsin mayor who runs the annual Santa 5K Race, always wins, and then uses the $1,000 cash prize to buy turkeys for the homeless. Solid dude.

• Ian – Jake’s Screech, who does his dirty work and gets constantly bullied. He looks 13 but attends college.

• Fake ID/Beeper Guys – A group of jocks that Jake cons first with fake IDs that don’t get them into The Viper Room (I think that’s what it was) and next with answers to a final exam via beeper but it gets cut off because Eddie shoves Ian into a locker. Life comes at you fast.

Jack Frost

• Charlie Frost – Jack and Gabby’s son. A sensitive, sad, sometimes sarcastic kid who quit the hockey team after Human Jack Frost died. He needs to get back on the team, reunite with his friends again, improve his grades, and take responsibility now that he’s the man of the house. There’s a scene where he puts Backdraft on TV until Snowman Jack Frost shakes his head no. Any kid who wants to watch Backdraft has his head on straight. I like this guy.

• Mac – Jack Frost’s best friend and bandmate, played by Mark Addy. He’s a solid dude and become a surrogate dad of sorts to Charlie after Human Jack Frost dies. Mac lost his zest for music and is working his way back to it. He doesn’t ever put on Backdraft, but he still seems to have his head on straight. I like this guy too.

• Rory – Charlie’s kinda bully/kinda friend. He doesn’t have a dad either, so he sympathizes and helps Charlie out when Snowman Jack Frost starts melting. Rory is the classic '90s snowpunk with spiky hair and baggy pants. During one of the snowballs melees, he takes a branch to the nuts and sled to the face, but hey, that’s winter.

• Sid Gronic – Charlie’s hockey coach, played by none other than Henry Rollins. He’s always intense and freaks out when he sees Snowman Jack Frost walking down Main Street.

• Tuck Gronic – Sid’s son and Charlie’s friend played by Andy Lawrence of the Lawrence Brothers. He’s just kinda there. When you’re a Lawrence, you don’t need to do a whole lot because you bring a lot of positive baggage with you on set already. You just have to be in the moment.

• Natalie – Charlie’s friend, who may be in love with him. She’s the girl that bandages the fallen soldiers emotionally after they get hit with a snowball. She seems like a compassionate kid.

• Chester – The Frost family dog, who pees on Snowman Jack Frost.

Winner: I’ll Be Home for Christmas


I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• “Doctor Jones”-- A garbage Aqua song (remember them?) that Allie sings in Eddie’s car. It’s the worst kind of late-'90s pop. Allie sings a bit where it goes “Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones, calling Doctor Jones….a yippee yai yoo, a yippee yai yeah, a yippee yai yoo ah-ha!” If someone did that in my car, I would ask them to stop.

• “O Marjorie” – Officer Max sings this to Marjorie to get her to take him back. It’s set to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.” He starts tentative, then gets into it and by the end of the song he’s singing (in front of a restaurant full of customers) about banging his wife (their waitress) on the skirt of their Christmas tree…in a Disney movie. It’s not not hot.

• “I Got Rolled” – A shitty Jimmy Ray song (remember him?) that Jake and Eddie jam to together for the brief five-minute stretch of the movie where they like each other. Eddie then throws Jake out of his car because he suddenly realizes that “The Ed-man” helping Jake would be bad for his rep. It’s cool when movies invent obstacles.

• “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” – It sounds like the Springsteen version but it’s a cover of the Springsteen version. Too bad, since having The Boss would have earned this the point automatically.

• “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” – An NSYNC holiday song that plays over the end credits. It’s quite beautiful (like honey being poured in your ears). I’m not bullshitting. This is one of the best Christmas songs ever released. P.S. How cool is it that real-life couple Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel are connected via I’ll Be Home for Christmas? They must talk about it all the time.
Jack Frost

• “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Don’t Lose Your Faith” – since Jack Frost is the front man for The Jack Frost Band, we, of course, get two songs from the band with Michael Keaton on vocals. He sounds like Beetlejuice if he replaced John Stamos for a leg of the Jesse and the Rippers tour. “Don’t Lose Your Faith” is totally a JatR song. These guys would be the perfect band to play a Planet Hollywood opening with a Bruce Willis cameo on harmonica.

• “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Gimmie Some Lovin,” and “Good Lovin” – Hanson contributed three songs to the Jack Frost soundtrack. I’m a card-carrying member of the Hanson Fan Club, but even I’ll say that their “Gimme Some Lovin” and “Good Lovin” covers are not their best work. “Merry Christmas Baby,” on the other hand, hits the fucking bullseye. Taylor’s vocals are exquisite.

• “Landslide” – a Fleetwood Mac classic finally put to good use in a snowman building montage. This is great filmmaking.

• “Hey Now Now” – a Radio Disney-ready bopper by Swirl 360 that plays during the second snowball fight. This song should only be played during snowball fights. It was also featured on the soundtrack for I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, so apparently it was everywhere during the 1998 holiday season and we never realized it.

• “How” – a sad bastard tune by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories that also was featured on the soundtrack for Twister. Pass.

Winner: Hmmmm….just as in life, so goes the scorecard. NSYNC for the win. Point goes to I’ll Be Home for Christmas.

WTF Moments

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• The college they attend looks like a high school complete with people who appear to be 15, lockers, and a school dance. The dance is Christmas-themed and held in the student lounge.

• Trading one plane ticket from LA to NY to two tickets from LA to Cabo doesn’t sound right.

• Eddie also lives in the same NY town as Jake and Allie (what are the odds?) but decides to drive cross-country back home despite it probably costing a lot more than flying between gas and staying each night in motels along the way. Why is he doing this?

• The jocks use pagers during a test they’re cheating on to get the answers from Ian. The professor notices but doesn’t stop them because one jock gives the excuse “Coach loves to keep in touch.” I call shenanigans.

• The Colorado Highway Patrolman leaves Colorado to drive to Nebraska to make up with his wife even though he’s presumably still on-duty.

• Jake sneaks onto a cargo plane that lucky for him is also going from Madison, WI to JFK Airport in New York.

• Jake’s dad leaves the ’57 Porsche on the front lawn for Jake to claim. He doesn’t even put it in the garage. It’s just out on the front lawn because this is apparently the safest neighborhood in New York. Also, snow is on the ground, but he left the car with its top down.

Jack Frost
• The radio station makes a specific point of telling the audience that they only play classic rock from the '70s and '90s but not the '60s and '80s. This hyper-specific programming is baffling because they never explain why not the '60s and '80s. Also, since the film takes place in 1998, is '90s rock "classic rock" yet? Later in the movie, the radio station plays Billy Idol’s “Hot in the City,” (and makes a big point of it) which came out in 1982. So…did the station change formats? Was it a mistake? We never find out.

• Part of Human Jack and Gabby Frost’s schmoop language is she tells him to “Sing her a smile” and he does because Kelly Preston. This happens at the beginning and end of the movie. It’s this movie’s equivalent of all the face patting in Face/Off, which, coincidentally of course, stars John Travolta, Preston’s real-life schmoop. If Kelly Preston told me to sing her a smile, I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be my honor.

• At a couple of points during the movie, Charlie Frost walks home from school. The movie shows him crossing massive open fields and walking down country roads. It looks like it takes him two hours each way.

• Snowman Jack Frost walks down Main Street by himself, talking to himself. It takes place at night, but still, wouldn’t he try to keep a lower profile? I dunno, maybe that’s just my humility talking. There are many scenes of Snowman Jack moving around in plain sight and only once (with Henry Rollins) does it seem to startle anyone. I guess it’s just a repetitive beat, so it makes more sense to ignore that point.

• During the second snowball fight, Snowman Jack has two snowballs thrown at him that land as boobs. For kids!

• Charlie tells Snowman Jack that he should come back to the house and eat (he has veggies…which seems odd…but no weirder than any other food I suppose) and it turns into my favorite moment of the movie. The movie cuts to Charlie and Snowman Jack in the kitchen and Jack says, “Your mom is gonna be jazzed we fixed that sink.” I’m guessing Snowman Jack told Charlie how to fix it and he didn’t do it himself (twig arms), but just the fact that a Snowman is fixing his wife’s appliances is really funny to me.

• Charlie’s hockey game ends and then the rink turns into a free skate immediately. There are people waiting by the boards like it’s a holiday doorbuster sale.

• The ending is totally lifted from Free Willy (Snowman Jack is melting so Charlie must get him to the mountains where it’s colder) and Ghost (before going to Heaven, Human Jack comes back as a ghost to say goodbye to Charlie and Gabby). Every movie should end like this. It works like gangbusters.

• Chester might have run away from home right before the end credits. It’s weird. The dog just takes off down the street and we get a crane shot out on the town over the cast & crew names. It’s easier to interpret that Chester bailed on the Frost’s than that he was just out for a run and will come back.

• Snowman Jack Frost has some solid quotes. Here are the top five:
5. “Sometimes it’s good to have a big butt.”
4. “I am The Wizard of Blizzard!”
3. “Woo! My balls are freezing!”
2. Jack: “You da man!”
Charlie: “No, you da man!”
Jack: “Nope, I’m the snowman!”
1. “Snowdad’s better than no dad.”

Winner: This one’s close. I’ll give it to Jack Frost because it has a higher WTF quantity.

Holiday Cheer

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• Jake has Ian rain fake snow outside Allie’s window and Jake gives her a milk carton of eggnog. She loves it because she’s easily pleased. Apparently, Jake does stuff like this for her sometimes and that evens out all the times he lies to her and/or acts selfishly.

• One mistletoe fail between Jake and Allie. He wants a kiss and she’s not having it!

• Jake has a Santa suit glued to him (beard, hat) for most of the movie as part of the jocks' revenge. Eventually, Jake decides to just go with it and embrace being a Santa. I know this because he says, “Maybe I should just go with it.” He begins his journey as Santa after the jocks strand him in the middle of the desert, leaving him for dead. I know this because he’s followed by a vulture.

• Jake holds up hitchhiking signs that read “North Pole or Bust” and “Reindeer on Strike.” If he were really needy he’d be too downtrodden to tell jokes.

• Jake sleeps in an outdoor sled because he doesn’t have shelter one night. The sled looks more comfortable than my bed.

• Nolan dresses like an elf and goes with Jake to deliver stolen goods off the back of Nolan’s truck to kids in a children’s hospital. It’s as dumb as it sounds.

• Allie and Eddie have a snowball fight possibly leading to an affair.
• There’s a mistletoe score between Eddie and Allie presumably on the way to an affair. It’s a little weird because Allie is mid-bite on some food while it happens. Their affair is never consummated to my chagrin. I read that these two actors dated in real life so that sets me down a little easier. I don’t condone affairs, but Christmas affairs (where neither party is married) can be very appealing. I know because the one time I cheated on someone was to go with a woman, who wasn’t my girlfriend, to a Cracker Barrel holiday party for her work. It was hot knowing I could potentially be in immoral holiday congress with her, but I didn’t.

• Jake wins $1,000 cash at the Santa 5K Race (which has a mandatory milk & cookie stop) and intends to keep the money until he learns from a cab driver that the other runner he met at the race is the mayor who the townspeople always let win so he can use the $1K to give to the needy. Jake returns the money. Solid moment, gives me the feels.

• Jake’s sister uses four years' of birthday money she keeps in her ballerina bag (her words, not mine) to send Jake a plane ticket back home. It ends up getting wasted because he doesn’t have a photo ID. Sucks to be them.

• Jake leads a Christmas parade in the one horse open sleigh he stole. All good though, because Christmas, so who gives a fuck. One guy objects but Jake compliments his costume wings and the guy is like “I took a sewing class” so he’s smitten by that JTT magic and no longer cares about the felony.

• Jake gets home one minute before 6pm on Christmas Eve but doesn’t go inside until 6:01, deliberately losing the bet because it’s not about the car anymore. It’s about family, yo! Mr. Wilkinson says he can still have the car. Jake goes “Nope! A bet is a bet. We’ll need many more Christmas’ together to fix up the Porsche.” Boom! He’s redeemed. Also, the Porsche looked done so will they have to break things to have something to fix?

Jack Frost

• Human Jack and Charlie build a snowman together. Jack takes a carrot and makes it a dick on the snowman. Charlie goes “That’s the nose!” and Jack’s all “I thought you said hose?!!” There’s a missed opportunity for Michael Keaton to then say “Now, you wanna get nuts??? C’mon! Let’s get nuts!!!”

• Human Jack Frost gets has a car accident and dies on Christmas. Pretty depressing.

• The year after his dad dies, Charlie builds another snowman and it comes to life. It’s the most emotionally affecting snowman building montage in a movie from 1998.

• There’s a winter festival called Shiverfest (not to be confused with Sliverfest, which only happens in my dreams) and part of the entertainment is a Father-Son Snowman Building Contest. Seems a little on the hose.

• Snowman Jack Frost spends one last Christmas with Charlie up at the family cabin and then dies on Christmas again. Really depressing.

• One of the end credits reads that no snowmen were harmed in the making of this film, which I suppose is a salve for our broken hearts.

Winner: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Comedic Set Pieces

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

• “Tom Jones Grandmas” – A group of elderly Tom Jones super fans pick up a hitchhiking Jake. One of the ladies’ fake teeth falls out and another spills a jar of pickles. This causes Jake to “yammy” in one of their handbags and he is thrown out of the car. This scene is not great.

• “Runaway Van”- Nolan is eating a cheeseburger while driving on the interstate but his tomato falls to the floor. As he tries to retrieve it, he veers and unknowingly chases Jake off the side of the road causing him to bail down a snowy hill. This is the movie at its most Jan De Bont.

• “Fake Liver Donation” – Jake is on a bus to New York, but then sees that Allie and Eddie are together at the Bavarian Village. He demands that they stop the bus, the bus driver says no, so Jake takes a fellow passenger’s sandwich meat, somehow finds a foam box with ice in it, writes “Organ Donation” in crayon on the top and demands the bus driver pull over so he can deliver a fake liver to Allie at the Bavarian Village. Still with me? He even gets a military serviceman on the bus to be all “What’s wrong with you, bus driver? Stop the bus! This woman’s life is at stake.” All the passengers follow along despite presumably seeing Jake make this all up. Screenwriting is not easy.

• “Planes and Automobiles” – Jake sneaks onto a cargo plane and hides in a dog cage, then later jumps on the hood of a car to ride it back to his hometown. JTT also stands for Just Total Tenacity.
Jack Frost

• “Snowbrawl Round 1” – A massive after-school holiday snowball battle royale, complete with sling shots and snowboards. It looks fun!

• “Birth of the Snowdad” – Jack Frost comes back to life as a Snowman. He is quickly calm and accepting about it despite paying lip-service to being angry. Charlie freaks out and barricades the house. Snowman Jack Frost also gets hit by a snow plow. It’s supposed to be funny but it’s not really.

• Snowbrawl Round 2” – This scene is epic! Kids are falling off hills, there’s snow boulders crushing people, downhill racing, etc. It’s way over-the-top and very awesome.

• “The J Shot Tutorial” – Snowman Jack Frost teaches Charlie how to do the perfect J Shot. It results in SJF having hockey puck-sized holes covering his snowball torso.

Winner: Snowbrawl for the win! Jack Frost takes it.

The Verdict: Jack Frost wins by a hose…I mean, nose. Happy Holidays everyone!


  1. Even though I knew it wasn't, I was secretly hoping it was the horror movie Jack Frost. That's a thing.

  2. In honor of how much love you put into this (and how much joy it brought me), I present a selection of my favorite lines:

    "You don't keep Gary Cole on the bench when it comes to love."
    "It's also a JTT vehicle in a JTT vehicle."
    "As a snowman, Jack does some good dadding."
    "He looks 13 but attends college."
    "Any kid who wants to watch Backdraft has his head on straight."
    "If someone did that in my car, I would ask them to stop."
    "I know this because he's followed by a vulture."
    "This is the movie at its most Jan De Bont."

    I'm now properly primed for the holidays. Thank you.