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Your Musical Advent Calendar, Part 3: "Elf."
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By Erich Vandussen
Erich Van Dussen's film reviews have been featured in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and online for more than 20 years. He lives in the Finger Lakes region.
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Everybody loves Christmas carols and everyone loves Christmas movies, but did you ever consider how your favorite films use your favorite music? Third in a 12-part series.
According to our friends over at Wikipedia, composer Frank Loesser wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in 1944 as a duet for him and his wife, Lynn, to sing at parties. Four years later he sold the rights to the song to MGM, where it was used in the 1948 film Neptune’s Daughter, and promptly won the Oscar for Best Song. Since then it’s become a holiday staple, because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a back-and-forth between a woman who wants to go home at the end of a date and a guy who won’t let her.
OK, that’s not fair: at its best, the song has a rakish charm – and part of the problem of this duet is that its old-fashioned interplay has been trampled over the years by too many mismatched performers who didn’t really connect with the music. Not so in Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003), an against-all-odds modern all-ages Christmas movie in which semi-tough New Yorker Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) doesn’t have any idea what to do with oddball new-in-town misfit Buddy (Will Ferrell). What she doesn’t realize is that, unlike all the unfortunate denizens of Manhattan who may think they’re an elf, Buddy comes by his mistaken identity honestly: he’s spent his entire life working with Santa at the North Pole, and now he’s back in New York looking for his birth father (James Caan).
Buddy discovers a warts-and-all New York City, one in which “Santa” is an imposter and people’s apartments sometimes don’t have hot water. That latter circumstance prompts Jovie to steal a shower in the locker room of her employer – the same department store where Buddy has found a job. He innocently wanders in when he hears Jovie singing; cue the duet, which suddenly becomes less about romantic avariciousness and more about the fact that, well … baby, it’s cold outside.
At its heart, Elf works so well because of its ability to deftly balance adult sensibilities against the childlike sense of wonder that the holiday season can inspire. This song, dripping with nostalgia, is a perfect complement to Favreau’s nicely established tone. And it doesn’t hurt that Deschanel (now best known for TV’s “New Girl”) has quite a set of pipes on her. If you like what you hear, check out her 2011 holiday album, A Very She and Him Christmas. Like the actress, it’s irresistible.

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