WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!
Can you really skip Christmas? Not deck the halls, hang lights, give (or receive) gifts, go to office parties or throw your own with seasonal foods and delicacies?
Luther and Nora Krank thought they could. In John Grisham’s Christmas novel Skipping Christmas, the Kranks, facing Christmas without their only child and the hassle and grind of seasonal festivities, decide to “take a break” and go on a cruise instead. Shunning every and all of the traditional holiday rituals and activities, they become a laughing stock to the community at large, a target for prankish kids and a pariah for their conformist neighbors. Luther and Nora stick to their guns, readying for their trip to the Caribbean… until a phone call changes everything.
Grisham’s novel was made as the 2004 film Christmas with the Kranks (the name was changed so not to be confused with Surviving Christmas, released the same year). Tim Allen as Luther and Jamie Lee Curtis as Nora seemed promising as the Kranks, but they and the whole movie fall short of the novel. Overall, both book and movie Kranks come off as selfish jerks; but the book Kranks don’t seem as big of jerks as in the movie. This is probably due to Grisham’s witty writing, where he lets us get to know Luther (Nora is a slightly smaller presence than the movie) better, and gives us better understanding as to why Luther is weary of so many holiday happenings. Also, the Kranks have a few allies: Folks who like their idea, but don’t have the fortitude to do it themselves. The Kranks, while pretty faithful to Skipping, lacks those things that makes the book work. The movie is a typical movie comedy, with its big name stars doing their schticks, throwing in some physical comedy and the requisite abuse of an animal – the Scheels’ cat – for laughs. Only a slapstick sequence where Luther goes shopping in the rain serves as impetus for the Christmas break idea. The writing and dialogue is bland and expositional. I often found myself thinking, “This was funny in the book. Why am I not laughing?” It relies too much on Hollywood formula and possibly Grisham’s name to make room for any depth.
The Kranks does make attempt to tell the story economically and visually, as a good movie adaptation should do. The movie trims away some of the book’s redundancy, and attempts to raise the dramatic tension; I think there is its undoing. Some of the redundancy – the revelation of skipping Christmas and the reaction; the “that’s so ridiculous” speeches – serves the book in giving insight to Luther’s state of mind. The movie adds some plot points to provide some character motivation, like the neighbors pressuring Nora to put up the snowman display on their rooftop, and a burglar who almost robs the Kranks during the Christmas party. But these additions fall flat and do nothing for the movie on any level. Movie Nora is brought to the front as a more sympathetic character. She shows more reluctance to go along with Luther’s scheme and more likelihood to crack under peer pressure. As such, she gets a bigger share of the slapstick routines. She shows more repentance than Luther when the neighbors help them throw a party despite their idiocy: The book doesn’t make a show of Nora’s gratitude. On that note, book Luther’s final gesture to the Scheels is much more genuine than movie Luther’s. Book Luther is moved by his neighbors’ sense of community, and didn’t need to be prompted by a scolding for hard-heartedness like his movie counterpart.
As stated, the Kranks in both media show themselves as schmucks, as do other characters. But this character flaw is more pronounced in the movie, making them less likeable than the characters in the book, where clever dialogue and respectable writing plays on the pathetic natures but makes redemption real. Though I said that I wouldn’t make these judgments, this is a case where the book is truly better than the movie.
Skipping Christmas is available at all CCLS Libraries.